Zlatan Ibrahimovic has many things – a larger than life personality, an enduring knack for goal-scoring, a famous ego that breeds boundless confidence, and a combined 12 league titles won across four different countries.
One thing the 41-year-old Swede doesn’t have is regret.
Ibrahimovic played for six months without an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) last season, taking regular injections, draining fluid from his left knee, and gobbling painkillers, so he could fulfil his promise to the AC Milan faithful and help deliver a first scudetto to the Rossoneri since 2011.
He stayed true to his promise but also exacerbated his knee injury, needing surgery in May to reconstruct the ruptured ACL. He hasn’t competed since.
Currently in Dubai, where AC Milan are having a winter training camp, Ibrahimovic is following a strict rehabilitation programme for his knee, hoping to return to action at some point this season.
The former Barcelona, PSG and Manchester United forward knows he actively made his injury worse but insists it was a price he was willing to pay.
“So I was injured let’s say one year ago. And since then, every day I put my foot on the field was a consequence, but we knew, we knew every time I went out to try to do something, there was a consequence that things would get worse,” Ibrahimovic said in Dubai.
“But I have no regrets, I would redo it every time if I could choose, just to win the scudetto because my mentality is that.
“I mean the drive to win, do everything to win, help my team to win. And I knew I was not 100 percent in condition and every time it got worse and worse but I have no regrets and in the end we won, so now I am paying for what I went through.
“Let’s say every trophy has its price, and this price was my knee.”
Ibrahimovic says his rehab is going well but that it was a long process.
“The key here is having patience,” he added.
“There is no date where I’m supposed to be back or when I have to be back. Here it’s all about feeling good, with your health, and when the health is good, then the second step is to play football.”
Ibrahimovic’s triumph with Milan last season was his second Serie A success with the club, having also won with them in 2010-2011.
“We had a team that was really phenomenal and everybody expected us to win,” recalled Ibrahimovic of that squad from 11 years ago.
“We were one of the favourites to win and we had amazing players that won a lot of trophies and they were in the last part of their career, more or less like I am now. And individually they were really phenomenal.”
His second stint with the club has been quite a different story.
“I came to a second wave Milan this time and it was a different Milan. A Milan that even playing Champions League for I don’t know, eight, nine years, didn’t win any trophies,” he said.
“[No] Scudetto since 2011, and was a young team, different owner, so the situation was completely different. But the bigger satisfaction was this trophy because nobody expected us to win because everybody said we will not even come top four.
“When I came to the first press conference, I said I will bring them back to the top and we will win. And people were laughing, they said no chance, because they said I’m too old, I will not make it, I should stop playing football.
“Instead I’m sitting here a champion of Italy and I won. So people they should be careful before they judge my words. Because my words are very important.”
Milan lie second in the Serie A table at the moment, eight points adrift of leaders Napoli. Ibrahimovic is feeling “positive” about his side’s chances of catching up, and says a lot will depend on how teams react to the unusually long midseason break all leagues were forced to take because of the World Cup.
“It’s a different season. But we are ready, we work hard, we have experience from last year, we’re the reigning champion, so we know what we need to do,” he declared.
Although there is no concrete timeline for his recovery, Ibrahimovic refuses to entertain any talks of retirement. He doesn’t think too much about his future post-football, saying he prefers to “carpe diem, take the day like it comes”.
Either way, the Swede will never be short on options. He recently made his acting debut by taking on a role in the upcoming French action-comedy, 'Asterix and Obelix: The Middle Kingdom', and he has a wide range of businesses and investments in sports, food and finance.
Does he see himself coaching in the future?
“I don’t know,” he responds. “I think being a coach is not easy because, and I’m going against myself, because if you had a career like me, and you’re the player like me, it doesn’t mean you’ll be a great coach.
“Because I think once you start with something else, and not being an active football player, you should start from zero, and then you build yourself up. So if I choose to be a journalist, I’ll have to start from zero, and take my steps up and learn, develop, grow; and I think the same thing as a coach.
“You start as a novice, even if you have been a great player and had a fantastic career. Because being a coach is managing 25 players, being a player you’re managing yourself. So it’s not easy.
“But we have seen that great players have done a great job as a coach. But I’m not there yet. Because if I start to think about being a coach, it means in my mind I’m already retiring, so my football is not important. And in my mind I’m not retired, I’m still active.”
When the day eventually comes and Ibrahimovic decides to walk away from the sport, he knows it will be an emotional affair.
“I think whatever happens in that moment you should let it go because don’t act super mental, don’t act like a Hulk, don’t try to hold your tears, if the tears come,” he said.
“For sure it will be an emotional moment and it’s not easy. Because this is what we’ve been doing for all our life and we are the best in what we’re doing. And you will leave that thing in one day, that’s why you keep pushing always. You want to continue because you still want to have that feeling that you’re alive, because that’s how we feel alive.
“And then I think also you have to be realistic and ready for the second chapter of your life, that’s without football.”