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Milan can reach heights again: Berlusconi

AC Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi said he is confident the fallen Serie A giants will return to the forefront of European and world football under new coach Filippo Inzaghi.

Milan can reach heights again: Berlusconi
AC Milan's Coach Filippo Inzaghi looks on before the Italian Serie A football match Empoli vs AC Milan on September 23rd. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

"In 2016 the Champions League final is in Milan… there's no reason we can't dream," Berlusconi said in an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport Monday.

Inzaghi, who took over from Dutchman Clarence Seedorf in the summer, won two league titles and two Champions League titles as a striker with Milan during his spell at the club in 2001-2012.

But in recent years the Rossoneri have slid dramatically as Italian football continues to reel from the effects of a wider economic crisis hitting the country.

Their last league title came under the guidance of Massimiliano Allegri in 2011, but the following season the spine of his squad was ripped out following an exodus of the club's top players.

Milan failed to qualify for Europe this season after finishing eighth in Serie A and Berlusconi has faced criticism for failing to invest in key players to rival Juventus, Roma and Napoli on the home front.

Legendary defender Paolo Maldini, now retired, recently added to criticism when he claimed Milan's current squad is "not built to win".

But Berlusconi hit back: "It's pertinent to remember that we have a very high salary bill. This year we have to invest 65 million euros into the club… it's an almost heroic effort we've had to make."

Berlusconi became AC Milan owner in February 1986 and thanks to the acquisition of big name stars has overseen the club's most successful period.

The likes of Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard, Maldini and Franco Baresi helped lead Milan to a whopping 28 titles including eight Serie A crowns and five Champions League trophies.

But with Italian football on the whole trailing behind big-spending Bayern, Real, Barcelona, Chelsea and the two Manchester giants, the prospect of a revival any time soon looks unlikely.

Juventus have won the league title the past three seasons but last made a dent in the Champions League in 2013 when they were eliminated in the quarter-finals by Bayern.

Sales from Milan's season tickets are also reportedly on the wane, but Berlusconi was dismissive.

"I'm sorry, but this is not just a Milan problem. Television is ever more invasive, now there is a disproportionate (number of) television channels," said Berlusconi, whose media company Mediaset holds partial rights to Serie A games.

"When you sit in front of the television, you can watch everything these days."

Berlusconi admitted the club was to blame for the departure of big name stars like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Clarence Seedorf among others in the summer of 2012.

But he said fans had to be patient and believe Inzaghi can help reap rich rewards in the coming seasons.

"In recent years some big names left the club, and some of that was our fault. This year, I've taken an active interest in recruiting," added Berlusconi.

"We've invested more (in players) than Juventus and Roma. Our objective is to get back into Europe as soon as possible.

"Success in football comes in waves and so fans have to be patient. We will be protagonists in Europe again. In 2016 the Champions League final is in Milan.. there's no reason we can't dream."

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FOOTBALL

‘Not here as a mascot’: Zlatan scores in first match at AC Milan

Zlatan Ibrahimovic warned on Friday he was not back at AC Milan just to act as a mascot and immediately got off the mark for his new club by scoring in a friendly against a local lower league side.

'Not here as a mascot': Zlatan scores in first match at AC Milan
Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic shows off his new AC Milan jersey on Friday. Photo: Marco Bertorelli/AFP
“I'm ready, I feel more than alive, I hope to play immediately,” the 38-year-old told a press conference in Milan before scoring and setting up another in a 9-0 friendly win later in the day over fifth-division Rhodense.
   
“I'm not here as a mascot. I'm looking for the last bit of adrenaline I might have. At my age you're not looking for anything else but a challenge. “I have not lost my passion for what I do.”
   
Ibrahimovic has signed a six-month contract worth 3.5 million euros ($3.9 million) with the option for an additional season, seven years after he left Milan for Paris Saint-Germain.
   
Hundreds of fans waited outside the club's Casa Milan headquarters to catch a glimpse of the returning hero who helped the fallen Italian giants win their 18th and last Serie A title in 2011.
   
He greeted them holding the number 21 jersey aloft, having worn the number 11 during his previous spell at the club.
 
“I got more requests now than when I was 28,” said Ibrahimovic, who parted company with MLS side Los Angeles Galaxy in October.  “I wanted adrenaline and at Milan you can't say no. It's a club I love, in 2012 I didn't want to leave.”
   
His first league game could be against Sampdoria on Monday at the San Siro.
   
“I want to feel the grass and the atmosphere of the stadium, if they boo the adrenaline will increase, and at the end of the game they will applaud.”
   
Ibrahimovic scored 56 goals in 85 appearances in his first spell at Milan, and scored more Serie A goals for the club (42) than anyone else in the last decade.
 
'Make the difference'
 
One of the most successful clubs in the world, the seven-times European champions languish 11th in the Serie A table, 14 points away from Champions League football and just seven away from the relegation zone.
   
Club legend Paolo Maldini contacted the Swede after he left LA Galaxy and the calls intensified after a 5-0 loss to Atalanta, their heaviest defeat in 21 years.
   
“After Atalanta I got lots and lots of calls, it wasn't a difficult decision in the end,” continued Ibrahimovic.
   
Ibrahimovic said that going to the United States after his career-threatening knee injury at Manchester United had refuelled his passion.
   
“A year ago (former AC Milan sporting director) Leonardo had looked for me but I still didn't feel ready to make a difference in Italy.
 
“I only had one MLS championship in my legs after the injury. Now I feel alive, more than alive,” continued the Swede, who scored 53 goals in 58 games for LA Galaxy.
 
“Things need to be improved on the pitch and that's why I'm here. I know perfectly well that I can't play like when I was 28 or 35, but smart players know how to manage themselves — you can run less and shoot more from 40 metres.”
   
With 116 games for Sweden and 62 goals, Ibrahimovic is the all-time leading scorer for the Swedish national team.
   
He started his career at Malmo before going on to play for Ajax, Juventus, Inter, Barcelona, Milan, PSG and Manchester United, winning trophies with all these clubs.
   
Milan chief football officer Zvonimir Boban warned that the club would not just be counting on Ibrahimovic.
   
“We must not hide behind the broad shoulders of Zlatan Ibrahimovic,” said Boban. “We hope the course of the season will change and are optimistic about the effect he will have on the team and the environment, but we need results.”
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