Zlatan Ibrahimovic is at the same level as Marco van Basten, says Paolo Maldini, with the AC Milan legend seeing similarities between an enigmatic Swede and a “super champion” of the past.
The Rossoneri have been blessed with a wealth of attacking talent down the years.
At the peak of their powers in the late 1980s and early 90s, Dutch icon Van Basten led their line in style as he plundered 125 goals through 201 appearances.
Few have come close to matching the efforts of a classy finisher that saw his career cruelly cut short by injury.
Ibrahimovic is, however, another talismanic presence that has starred for Milan across two spells at San Siro.
He returned to Italy with unfinished business in January and is inspiring a bid for a first title triumph since 2011 – when he led the scoring charts for a team managed by Massimiliano Allegri.
Ibrahimovic has taken his goal return to 78 in 115 outings, with Maldini admitting that the evergreen 39-year-old deserves to stand alongside heroes such as Van Basten.
He told DAZN: “[Ibrahimovic and Van Basten] are two super champions. Ranking them is difficult.
“[Franco] Baresi and Van Basten were the ones who had something more than the others.
“Marco unfortunately had to stop in his best moment. Ibra, for what he has done and what he is doing, is undoubtedly at that level too.
“[Last year] Ibra was the right man to make that mix between youth and experience. But it was a risk for sure.
“He came from two years in the MLS, Serie A is a completely different thing.
“When we proposed an 18-month contract, he told us: ‘Let’s do six months because I don’t know what I can give you’.”
Ibrahimovic offered enough across the second-half of the 2019-20 campaign to earn an extended stay at Milan.
He is only committed to a deal through to the summer of 2021, but is playing his way into contention for further fresh terms that will take him beyond his 40th birthday.
An untimely spell on the sidelines is currently being taken in, as he nurses his way back from injury, but 11 goals have been plundered through 10 games and Stefano Pioli will be ready to welcome Ibrahimovic back with open arms once he returns to full fitness.