Zlatan Ibrahimovic is like an umbrella at AC Milan, according to CEO Ivan Gazidis – sheltering younger players from outside pressure and helping them develop.
The veteran Swedish striker has had a transformative effect since returning to San Siro, with Milan top of the Serie A table as the New Year nears.
Ibrahimovic is Milan's top scorer with 10 goals to his name this season but younger players like Jens Petter Hauge, Brahim Diaz and Rafael Leao have also made important contributions.
“For me, it was a big challenge to come back here to try to change the mentality, to try to change the situation and to make the players understand what Milan was about,” Ibrahimovic recently told UEFA.
“When I play, I bring my character, my personality and obviously my quality onto the pitch. I put a lot of pressure on my team-mates, I try to get the most out of each of them.”
As far as Gazidis is concerned, Ibrahimovic’s presence has been a breath of fresh air.
"The thing I am very happy about is the leadership we are showing, not only in Zlatan who obviously is like an umbrella for all players, he feels comfortable withstanding pressure and helping young players to grow,” he told Sky Sports. “Zlatan continues to call himself Benjamin Button, continues to rejuvenate.
“It is very interesting, all the players who come to Milan want to win something and this will be a legacy that Zlatan will leave because he has won so much in football and it would be easy to live on his wages and enjoy life because he has nothing left to prove.
“But he came here understanding the meaning of our challenge. He's a different player than he was ten years ago; he doesn't run as much as he once did, but he has ten players around him ready to run for him.”
Milan’s apparent rebirth hasn’t only been a product of Ibrahimovic’s hard work, of course, and Gazidis was also keen to pay tribute to coach Stefano Pioli.
"He was fantastic putting all these players together, with a great sense of unity and a common goal. We are playing purposeful, attacking football; we have scored at least two goals in the last 14 or 15 games."