Teenage striker Lorenzo Colombo has hailed the impact of Zlatan Ibrahimovic at AC Milan, revealing how tough the veteran forward is on his team-mates in training.
Ibrahimovic has been cited as a key reason for the Rossoneri's resurgence over the past 12 months, with Stefano Pioli's side having spent a number of weeks at the top of Serie A this season before a poor run of results saw Inter usurp them and move clear.
Colombo, who is currently out on loan with Serie B outfit Cremonese having scored his first Milan goal earlier this season, feels he is lucky to have had the opportunity to learn from the ex-Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United star.
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What was said?
Speaking exclusively to Goal after being named on the 2021 NXGN list of the world's top teenage footballers, Colombo said of Ibrahimovic: "It's a great, and hard to explain the fortune I feel to train with him.
"Ibrahimovic made football history, so having him in the same team at the beginning of your career is a privilege that few have had. I was very lucky.
"I tried to take everything I could, especially watching him and watching the details, I hope that can help me in my future.
"Personally I think the disappointment he shows helps me a lot, because during training he always expects the best and you can never make mistakes. If you make a mistake, he will reprimand you.
"To me this is very helpful thing. It makes you stay on track and leads you to raise the bar, and obviously raising the bar means you improve."
Lorenzo Colombo: The story so far
Having joined Milan's academy at an early age, Colombo first came to prominence when finding the net against both Real Madrid and Barcelona as a nine-year-old.
A potent goalscorer throughout his time in the Rossoneri's youth ranks, the striker pushed himself into the first-team reckoning after scoring nine goals in six appearances for the Primavera side in 2019-20, despite having spent much of the campaign out injured.
He was rewarded with his debut in June's Coppa Italia semi-final defeat against Juventus, with Pioli throwing on Colombo as he looked for a goal to keep the tie alive late on.
"I don't remember what Pioli said to me when I made by debut against Juventus, as in those situations, emotion prevails," Colombo said. "Personally, many images passed in my mind at that moment. The images of my entire journey in the youth sector, and of all the efforts and sacrifices I have made over the years. It was truly a great personal moment."
A natural No 9 with a rocket of a left foot, Colombo opened his Milan senior account in the early weeks of the 2020-21 campaign when finding the net against Bodo/Glimt in Europa League qualifying back in September.
Colombo was not even meant to be playing in the game, but a positive Covid-19 test result returned by Ibrahimovic thrust the youngster into the spotlight.
"It had a very special flavour because we strikers live for scoring goal," he said of the goal. "I had to be ready in that situation, because there had only been a few hours since the news of Ibrahimovic's positive Covid test.
"I had to answer the call with actions, so I tried to use all the desire and all the strength I had stored up. Luckily it went well."
Loan to Cremonese
Despite that strike, Colombo - who models his game on ex-Argentina star Gabriel Batistuta - made only eight subsequent appearances for Pioli's side in the first half of the campaign before joining Cremonese in the January transfer window.
The 19-year-old has played in all but three of the club's fixtures since, and scored his first goal for the club shortly before the March international break; a break which saw him earn a first call-up to the Italy Under-21s for the group stages of the European Championship.
"It was my choice," Colombo admitted of his loan move. "Milan said that the was up to me to choose, and I could have stayed there for the rest of the season.
"In the end, I thought that going elsewhere on loan to play was the right choice as I aim to grow. The important thing is to be able to play and have the possibility to make mistakes and to understand game situations.
"Serie B is a very tough league. You play against experienced players, and in my opinion it's a very physical championship. It has less quality than Serie A, but it can help you to grow in terms of physical battles and in recognising game situations."