Zlatan Ibrahimovic has declared he is Santa Claus as he brings gifts to 27 children: his two in Sweden, and his 25 team-mates in Milan.
The veteran striker has helped to steer the Rossoneri back towards a Serie A title challenge since returning for a second spell at the club in January.
The only unbeaten team in Europe’s top-five leagues in games played since the 2019-20 shutdown in March caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Milan sit top with 34 points from 14 matches, exactly double the tally they had at the same stage last season.
Ibrahimovic has scored 10 goals in just six league games in 2020-21 but, interestingly, Milan have had a better win rate without him in the team (72.7 per cent) than with him (62.5 per cent) since his first game back at the club on January 6.
Still, the 39-year-old’s impact on and off the pitch has helped turn Stefano Pioli’s side into genuine contenders at least for a top-four finish, the seven-time champions of Europe having not played in the Champions League since the 2013-14 season.
The former Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain star feels like a gift that keeps on giving at the club where he has always been happiest.
“I never ask for anything for myself [at Christmas],” he told SportWeek. “I am Santa Claus. I am the one who brings gifts to all my 27 children: two are in Sweden and the other 25 are at Milanello.
“This year, huge congratulations for what we have done and what we’re doing. We’ve lost very few games. I don’t know if that’s thanks to me, but I did do something, I brought something in.
“I’ve played at many clubs and have respect for all my clubs, great memories, but Milan is the club where I feel at home.
“I go to Milanello every morning and I am in no hurry to go home because I am at home. I felt like this the first time I came to Milan, in 2010.
“With [former CEO Adriano] Galliani and [former president Silvio] Berlusconi, with the team, everyone who worked there, there was a different feeling, different atmosphere. They made you feel at home.
“I liked it because I could be myself and at the same time I was playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world. This is why Milan are top of the top for me.”
Ibrahimovic has won 11 league titles across four different countries, not including Juventus’ 2004-05 and 2005-06 Scudetti revoked due to the Calciopoli scandal, in a glittering career.
He has been acknowledged as Sweden’s best footballer on 12 occasions, including this year, yet his highest finish in the Ballon d’Or standings was fourth back in 2013.
Still, Ibrahimovic claims he would not trade his 12 Guldbollen for France Football’s prize as he considers his longevity to be a great achievement.
“I wouldn’t swap my 12 Guldbollen for one from France Football because, for me, they mean continuity,” he said.
“I have seen many who have won the World Cup, European Championship, Champions League, even the Ballon d’Or, had a wonderful year, fantastic, then later they disappeared.
“But I’ve been in the game for 25 years. Always at the top. It’s a big difference.”
Explaining how he can still compete at the highest level after more than 20 years in senior football, Ibrahimovic said: “Winning is my drug.
“It’s hard to explain but, when I’m on the pitch, I have to win. I have a 95 per cent winning rate in training, in practice matches. It’s not a lie.
“Maybe that’s understood by the team, too, like with the draw with Parma [when Milan recovered from 2-0 down]. Maybe six months ago they would have been happy, but this time they were all still p***** off the next day.”