Zlatan Ibrahimovic revealed it took three knee surgeries to rescue his career at the end of last season, as the Milan striker returned to centre stage on Tuesday with Sweden.
The 41-year-old spoke at a national team press conference ahead of Friday’s Euro 2024 qualifier against Belgium, having been called up by coach Janne Andersson.
Two years have passed since Andersson recalled Ibrahimovic after a long spell in the international wilderness, and he has endured cruel fortune in that subsequent time, with a knee injury ruling him out of the delayed Euro 2020 finals.
That blow in 2021 was followed by Ibrahimovic requiring anterior cruciate knee ligament surgery at the end of last season, which was necessary to extend his playing days.
Milan announced in late May that Ibrahimovic, who played through the pain barrier to help them win the Serie A title, had undergone an operation on the problematic left knee.
Ibrahimovic said on Tuesday: “The truth is I had three surgeries, not one.”
He explained the process of getting the knee back in working order was then a struggle, and he had to stubbornly persist while initially seeing no improvement.
“The problem was that the feedback was not positive,” he said. “They tried to move forward, but it was then two steps backwards.
“I never saw any light that gave me energy, that gave me answers that what I was doing was good. But then something happened and I came out of a dark room and everything became bright and positive. It was hard, but I had a lot of patience.”
He is set to be a substitute against Belgium and Azerbaijan during this international camp, and to score for his country again, for the first time since netting against Denmark in November 2015, would cap his comeback.
“That would mean everything,” Ibrahimovic said. “I want to be compared to everyone else. But it’s always fun to score goals in the national team of course and here at home in front of the Swedish people. If the opportunity comes, I will score, 100 per cent.”
As the old man of the team, Ibrahimovic knows he is particularly conspicuous in the company of far younger colleagues.
He scored a penalty in Milan’s weekend defeat to Udinese, becoming the oldest scorer in Serie A history, and is determined to wring every last drop from his career.
“I was sitting yesterday when we had dinner,” he said, quoted in Aftonbladet. “I told [my team-mates]: ‘You’re probably wondering what I’m doing here. That you think I’m stupid in the head. That I am here, 41 years old and playing in the national team.’
“But then I said: ‘Wait until you’re near the end. Then you will understand everything I am doing now, that it will be like a panic. You don’t want to stop, you want to continue.’“