AC Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimović admits he knew he was leaving "the best team in the world" as he prepares to face former club FC Barcelona with top spot in Group H at stake.
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Zlatan Ibrahimović admits he knew he was leaving "the best team in the world" when he joined AC Milan from FC Barcelona in 2010, but the Sweden striker is more than content with life in the Rossoneri ranks as he prepares to face his former club in a match that will likely decide who finishes top in UEFA Champions League Group H.
Ibrahimović spent only one season at Camp Nou after joining from FC Internazionale Milano in exchange for €46m plus Samuel Eto'o in July 2009. The prolific forward went on to rack up 21 goals in all competitions and help Josep Guardiola's side retain the Liga title, but that was not enough to spark a long-lasting love affair Barcelona. Looking back ahead of Wednesday's UEFA Champions League meeting, the 30-year-old feels convinced the decision to depart after his first campaign was the best for everyone.
"It will be a very exciting, fantastic game," Ibrahimović told UEFA.com. "We will be playing against the best team in the world, without doubt. Even when I left the team, I knew I'd left the best team in the world. But, for me and all the other parties involved, I think the best solution was to leave the club. Given the results for both sides, it was the best solution."
Success certainly lay ahead for both clubs in 2010/11, with Barça winning the Liga and UEFA Champions League and Ibrahimović helping Milan clinch the Scudetto after a seven-year wait. "For me, it's important that you're happy when you play. If you're happy, it makes it easier for you. The way you feel off the pitch is the way you feel inside. I struggled there in the end, so the best thing was to move. I was a man; I stood up, we found a solution and I moved.
"I think Milan are the biggest club I have ever played with," continued the striker, who won the Italian title three times with the Rossoneri's eternal rivals Inter. "I felt at home from my first day here – they welcomed me with open arms. This city is my second home after Malmo, where I was born and spent many years.
"Some people said that it was impossible to make this move [after playing for Inter], but I'd already moved from Juventus to Inter and I think that was even harder. The past and the future don't bother me; I just try to give my best and achieve results for myself and the club I represent."
A thigh injury denied Ibrahimović a return trip to Camp Nou in September as he missed the 2-2 opening-day draw between the sides. Sitting that match out has galvanised his desire to perform well on Wednesday, although he is keen to keep the occasion in perspective.
"I was looking forward to that match," he said. "I was training very hard but I got an injury the day before. I was disappointed, but for me playing against a former team is nothing personal. Of course it's emotional, a big game, but in the end it's like any other game. There's no need to over-hype it."
Since their matchday one meeting, Barcelona have prevailed in all their subsequent Group H encounters to seal an early ticket to the last 16. Milan are through too, though a 1-1 stalemate with FC BATE Borisov last time out has left them two points shy of Barça in the race for top spot.
"I think this game is more about prestige," said Ibrahimović. "It's good to come first, but sometimes it's good to come second; both can be positive or negative. When you're in the Champions League, you're bound to meet a strong team, and to win the competition you will have to beat the strong teams."
A UEFA Champions League winners' medal continues to remain absent from his otherwise immaculate collection, yet the six-time Swedish player of the year is relatively relaxed about putting that right. "A few years ago, it was my main objective, but if you want something too much you'll never win it," said the forward, who has scored in each of his three Group H outings so far.
"Now I just aim for all the trophies I can win. If I can win it, fine. Otherwise, nothing will bring my career down. All I ever tried to do was become a complete player and now I'm quite satisfied. And when you win trophies, it's not because you're the number one – it's because your team is."