STOCKHOLM, Sweden, May 8 – AC Milan was on Friday awaiting the belated return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic from a protracted and productive coronavirus exile in Sweden that has fuelled speculation in his native country that their biggest star was coming home for good.
While most of his AC Milan team-mates have had to sit idle because of the pandemic, Ibrahimovic was busy training in Sweden with players at Hammarby, a first-division club which he part owns.
Unlike much of the rest of Europe, where containment has limited or prevented athletes training, in Sweden restrictions to contain Covid-19 have been more flexible.
The start of the Swedish league, scheduled for 4 April has been postponed, but training has continued as long as players avoid close contact, unlike Italy where individual training only resumed this week.
On Tuesday, only Ibrahimovic and Ivory Coast striker Franck Kessie were absent at the Milanello centre for medical tests AC Milan had asked players to take, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport.
But on Friday morning, the same newspaper reported that the Swede was expected later in the day.
In Sweden, reports on Ibrahimovic’s immediate intentions are contradictory. There have been reports that he was waiting for a clearer picture of how training and Serie A will resume. On the other hand, some media say he is poised to leave for Italy, where Serie A hopes to resume in June.
“If we start on 4 May, I will return on 3 May. If we start on 9 May, I will arrive on 8 May,” the player was quoted by Swedish public television as saying in April.
The Italian government has not yet agreed to a plan for clubs to resume group training on May 18 and this week, Italian sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora warned that it was “impossible to set a definite date” for Serie A to restart.
In Stockholm, life has been almost normal for the former Swedish international, who returned home with his family after the the break in the Italian championship.
“If you look at Zlatan it’s obvious that he gets completely different possibilities to stay in shape compared to the Serie A players that are still in Italy,” Martin Petersson, a football journalist with privately-owned TV4, told AFP.
His presence has fuelled the idea that the pandemic will precipitate Ibrahimovic’s return to the Swedish league, where it all began for him 20 years ago in Malmo.
Ibrahimovic’s contract, signed with Milan in December after a two-year stint in the USA with LA Galaxy, expires at the end of the season.
In Swedish football, many believe the pony-tailed giant will return to his homeland.
“It feels like Hammarby as an option in the future isn’t completely out of the picture,” said Petersson. “He’s still missing one trophy, apart from Champions League, and that’s the one given to the champions of Sweden. Maybe that’s tempting for him?”
In an interview with Dplay, an online video service, Ibrahimovic said earlier in the spring that he had “a contract with Milan and (would wait and see) how it ends.
“I said: ‘I want to play football for as long as I can, you never know what might happen’.”
He added that he has also thought about what he will do in football when he stops playing.
“I want to learn something new about football, from a different perspective. I’ll be contributing on the sidelines, not on the pitch,” he told the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet.
Hammarby chairman Richard von Yxkull told the newspaper Dagens Nyheter not to rule anything out, stressing that “it is not the club’s decision.