Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the boastful Swede who scored more than 500 goals in a decorated career spanning 24 years and seven countries, announced his retirement Sunday.
The 41-year-old ends his career with AC Milan, whom he helped win the Serie A title last season. He had two spells with the Rossoneri, winning the title in 2010-11 before returning to the club in December 2019. He also represented Malmo, Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United, and the LA Galaxy.
“The time has come to say goodbye to football, but not to you,” Ibrahimovic told the crowd at San Siro following Milan’s season-ending 3-1 win over Hellas Verona.
A number of injuries, including a knee issue that required reconstructive surgery last summer, limited Ibrahimovic to just four appearances this season. He was unable to play in Sunday’s finale because of a calf injury he suffered in April.
Despite the lack of minutes, Ibrahimovic still left a mark on the season, becoming the oldest player to score in Serie A at 41 years and 166 days in Milan’s 3-1 loss to Udinese in March.
He began his career with hometown club Malmo in 1999 and scored in every year since, bringing his career haul to a stellar 573 goals, including 62 for Sweden. A towering striker with a black belt in taekwondo and a larger-than-life personality on and off the pitch, Ibrahimovic won 32 trophies, including league titles in the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and France.
However, likes previous greats of the game, including Ronaldo, Diego Maradona, and Eric Cantona, Ibrahimovic missed out on Europe’s top prize: the Champions League. Ibrahimovic only managed to win the second-tier Europa League with Manchester United in May 2017.
He developed his signature swagger as a rebellious teenager growing up in one of Malmo’s housing projects. Born to a Bosnian father and Croatian mother, he idolized Brazilian striker Ronaldo and sought to replicate his commanding style of play.
Ibrahimovic signed his first professional contract with Malmo in 1996 and famously turned down a trial offer from Arsenal when he was 17. Later, he met the late super agent Mino Raiola, who’d go on to broker Ibrahimovic’s transfer from Ajax to Juventus in 2004 and engineer further moves abroad.
He enjoyed his most prolific spell with Paris Saint-Germain, scoring 156 goals in 180 appearances between 2012 and 2016 while winning league titles in each season. He was PSG’s record scorer before being overtaken by former teammate Edinson Cavani. Kylian Mbappe usurped both in March.
Ibrahimovic’s strongest connection was with Milan. He first represented the Rossoneri in 2010 when he arrived on loan from Barcelona following what he described as the most difficult season of his career. Ibrahimovic said the Italian club helped him recapture the happiness he lost during that tumultuous year in the Catalan capital, where he openly quarreled with then-manager Pep Guardiola.
Ibrahimovic bagged 93 goals in 163 matches for Milan and helped them return to competitiveness following years of mismanagement and ownership turmoil. They clinched their first Serie A title in 11 years last May.
“The first time I came here, you gave me happiness,” he said Sunday. “The second time, you gave me love. You welcomed me with open arms, you made me feel at home. I will be a Milanista for the rest of my life.”