The AC Milan striker stares down Father Time in an extraordinary interview.
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Now 39, Zlatan Ibrahimović returned to AC Milan in 2020 after two years in the United States, determined to keep playing at the highest level.
Having won trophies with Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United, the Swedish striker has nothing left to prove, but he tells UEFA.com that he remains determined to succeed on the pitch – and also that he could easily beat King Kong in an arm wrestle.
On what keeps him motivated
I'm 39 and with what I have done, I have no obligation to work any more, but I still have this passion for what I'm doing. I'm never satisfied, and I always want more. I don't see a lot of players who are my age who were, or are, performing like I am doing. The moment a player goes above 30 is [meant to be] when they start to go down and they quit. Above 30 is when I started to become even better.
I hear athletes from [the] US say that they spent more than one million [dollars] to keep their body in shape. I am 39. I am in shape. I perform at the highest level. I spend zero to stay in shape. The secret is not how much you spend, the secret is in your head – how much you want it, how much you're willing to sacrifice. That is the secret. It's the mentality and mentality doesn't cost anything.
On the challenge of playing at 39
I would like to have the brain of Zlatan in a 25-year-old body! I get tired faster now, compared to when I was younger. I'm sleeping a lot because I need to recover more. Let's say after the games, before it probably took me one day to recover and to feel good and really fresh. Now I need between two and three days, which is normal for the age that I am.
And as long as I can perform, I will play at a high level. The day I stop performing, I will not play anymore because I need to feel alive. I need to feel I give something back. I don't want to have any advantages because I am 39 and they say "hey, you slow down" and that. No, I want you to consider me on the world-class level and compare me to everybody else, because then I push myself even more.
Who will play in his 50s: Zlatan or [Gianluigi] Buffon?
Buffon… For him, it's easy: he just needs to stand still and block balls. I need to move around, I need to create, I need to be able to shoot, I need to be able to battle with the defenders. So, he can probably go longer without really staying in shape, but I would give him a hard game.
In your dream team, who would take the penalties: Zlatan or Lionel Messi?
I would take the penalties, 100%, because I'm the captain of this team; I decide who takes the penalties. I would take the first three, then I would drop one to him, then I take the next three, then I drop [the next one] to him.
Who has the best tattoos: you or David Beckham?
All my tattoos are behind me. That is because I cannot see them and I cannot get tired of them, because if I saw them every day, I would get tired of them. And I think I've stopped with the tattoos now; I don't have any more [space] on my back. And my legs, I don't touch [them] because they are gifts for me. And my front, I don't want to do anything.
Who has the best trophy cabinet: Zlatan or Maxwell?
He has one I don't have: the [UEFA] Champions League. That is the only difference between his cabinet and mine. We had a great time, great career, both of us. We won a lot of trophies together. He is my best friend in the football world, and I'm just happy and proud that I can share happiness with him. He's an amazing guy. And he has a lot of patience for [putting] up with me. That is a great ability.
Who is ageing better: Zlatan or Benjamin Button?
I'm doing it better, because I'm living proof of it. Benjamin Button is just a made-up story. I'm the perfect profile for that movie. I'm doing the real movie, and Benjamin Button was a movie for the cinema.
Who would win an arm wrestle between Zlatan and King Kong?
I would destroy King Kong. 100%. I would destroy him.
Who is less likely to be tamed: Zlatan or a lion?
Zlatan, 100%. You can tame a lion, but you cannot tame Zlatan. It's a different animal.