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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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FOOTBALL

Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players’ ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome

Italy’s national football team reportedly insisted on taking an open-top bus tour through Rome to show off their European Championship trophy to crowds of fans - despite city authorities forbidding it amid concern about the spread of coronavirus.

Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players' ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome
Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The team’s bus parade through the city on Monday night following their Euro 2020 triumph “was not authorised”, according to Matteo Piantedosi the head of Rome’s prefettura (the public safety authority).

Thousands of fans packed the streets of central Rome to see the team celebrate their cup win after beating England on penalties in the final.

READ ALSO: ‘Football came home’: Italy celebrates Euro 2020 victory over England

Piantedosi told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Wednesday: “We had denied permission to celebrate Italy’s victory in the European Championships on the open bus, but the pact was not respected.”

Piantedosi, who is Rome’s top public security official, said police had “no choice” but to let the parade go ahead after players Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci insisted on it.

Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

A meeting had been held on Friday with the Italian football federation (FIGC) to discuss plans for the celebrations if Italy won, said Piantedosi.

“I had agreed the line with Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese and Chief of Police Lamberto Giannini,” he said.

“It was clearly explained that [the parade] was not possible. We said we could not authorize it.”

Piantedosi said the Italian football federation (FIGC) initially agreed to hold a “controlled” ceremony in Rome’s central Piazza del Popolo instead of the parade.

After players insisted on the bus tour on Monday however, Piantedosi said, authorities reluctantly let them go ahead due to fears of sparking public disorder.

“At that point we had no choice but to acknowledge the situation and handle it in the best way we could,” he said.

READ ALSO: Covid cases on the rise in Europe once again as WHO warns of Euro 2020 risk

Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

In a statement on Wednesday, the FIGC said it had acted responsibly but decided not to disappoint fans who had come to celebrate with the team.

Footage of large crowds thronging the bus carrying the ‘Azzurri’ and the European Championship trophy through the capital however fuelled concerns about new outbreaks of coronavirus, after Italy’s infection rate began to rise again last week.

The World Health Organization warned earlier this month that crowds and gatherings connected to football matches will fuel a new rise in cases across Europe this summer.

READ ALSO: Delta variant in Italy will be ‘prevalent within 10 days’: health official

Italy’s health minister Roberto Speranza also voiced concerns on Monday about the consequences of people gathering to watch sporting events.

He said the European football championship win was “a great joy after terrible months,” but “even in these moments of national pride we can’t forget that our ‘game’ to defeat Covid is not yet won.”

There are currently minimal health restrictions in place across Italy, however masks are supposed to be worn in crowded public places, including outdoors.

“Footage shows that police were virtually the only ones [in the crowd] wearing masks,” said Piantedosi.

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