Zlatan Ibrahimovic has provided Milan with a major lift ahead of the derby against Inter, returning to first-team training and sharing pearls of wisdom with his Rossoneri team-mates.

Sunday's San Siro battle comes too soon for Ibrahimovic to make an impact on the pitch, but the 41-year-old striker is back in the fold, close to returning from the knee surgery he underwent last May.

It was envisaged he would be absent for around eight months, and Milan have given the veteran all the time he needs.

Head coach Stefano Pioli believes having Ibrahimovic around the squad can only be a positive as last season's Serie A champions bid to recover from a drastic dip in form.

Milan have lost three games in a row, including a Supercoppa Italiana final 3-0 thumping by Inter, and are without a win in their last six.

Discussing the return of the charismatic Ibrahimovic, who is a former Inter player, Pioli said on Saturday: "He has always been fundamental for this team.

"On Friday he resumed training with us, even if to a small extent. Unfortunately, the two games against Tottenham [in the Champions League] come too soon, and right now we don't know when he will be at 100 per cent.

"I hope with all my heart he can come back soon, especially for what he's doing. Few people would do what he's doing to come back from such a difficult and complicated injury.

"Has he talked to his team-mates? I think so, he knows how to strike the right chords."

Pioli's team have slipped 15 points behind leaders Napoli and entered the weekend in fifth place, albeit only two points behind second-placed Inter, so there is all to play for at San Siro.

"It will be a great opportunity for us and we must do everything to seize it," Pioli said. "Inter come into the match in excellent form, but we have a great desire to start again."

Since the Supercoppa loss on January 18, Milan have been beaten 4-0 at Lazio and 5-2 at home by lowly Sassuolo, putting their top-four prospects in unexpected mid-season peril.

Inter will fancy piling on more misery, but Pioli said: "We have not lost the spirit that has always distinguished us. We must go back to showing it."

Milan are determined to get back into the top four and ink themselves in for another Champions League campaign, but Pioli said: "It shouldn't be taken for granted.

"We have to win many games from here until the end to get as high as possible."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic believes Kylian Mbappe should be confident of winning another World Cup but does not expect Argentina to do likewise after their disrespectful title celebrations.

Mbappe's France lost on penalties to Argentina in December's Qatar 2022 final despite their talisman scoring a hat-trick.

Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Lionel Messi instead added the final major medal he was waiting for to his collection.

Despite Mbappe matching Messi almost stride for stride, he was the subject of taunts from the Argentina players both immediately after the game and in their celebrations back home.

PSG great Ibrahimovic criticised the Albiceleste's lack of class and suggested it was "a sign" they will not repeat their win.

"I said Argentina will for sure win the World Cup, because if you want to remember the Qatar World Cup for the rest of history, who needs to win? Messi," he told France Inter.

"Messi is considered the best player in history. If you want to remember the Qatar World Cup, Messi needs to win. I was 100 per cent sure he would win.

"But I felt sorry for Mbappe, because if you score three goals in a final and don't win the World Cup, that is very sad.

"What will happen? He will win another World Cup, and he already won one, so I'm not worried about Mbappe. I'm worried about the other players in Argentina, because they will not win anything more.

"Messi has won everything and he will be remembered, but the rest, who behaved badly, that you cannot respect. That's coming from me as a professional football player at a high level.

"That is a sign you will win one time and you will not win any more. Mbappe will win again."

Stefano Pioli wants Milan to "shut up and work" after they lost more ground in the Serie A title race with a 4-0 thumping at the hands of Lazio on Tuesday.

The Rossoneri lost for the first time in seven league matches with goals from Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Mattia Zaccagni giving Maurizio Sarri's side the advantage heading into the break.

Luis Alberto then added a third with a well-taken penalty before Felipe Anderson rounded off the scoring as Milan failed to win for a fifth straight game in all competitions.

With Pioli's men remaining 12 points behind Napoli, the Milan head coach believes it is time for less talk and more action from the reigning champions.

"Right now there are many things that are not working, mental and tactical aspects," Pioli told DAZN. "I'm here to talk because I have to, we should shut up and work. I too will try to talk less and work more.

"We have to get back to Milanello [Milan's training ground] quickly to work and work well, we're not playing according to our possibilities.

"Things aren't going well for us, that's for sure. In 20 days we haven't brought home any good performances or results."

With Milan now having conceded eight goals in their past three league matches, as many as in their nine previous Serie A games, Pioli knows his team will have to find a defensive fix, and quick, if they are to somehow claw back Napoli and retain the title.

"The problem right now isn't too much with the ball," Pioli explained. "But without the ball there's no cover and we leave too many spaces.

"We just have to work. The team needs to be more compact, attentive and collaborative. Continuing to make these mistakes means creating even more difficulties in the match.

"We have to go back to playing as we know how and do it as soon as possible. In the last two weeks the performances have not been what we expected and could have done."

Milan's search for a return to form could soon be boosted by the return of veteran striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has missed all of this season with a knee injury but posted a video earlier on Tuesday of him kicking a ball at the club's training ground.

Pioli refused to point to Ibrahimovic's long absence for his team's shortcomings this season, adding: "It's too easy now [to blame Ibrahimovic's injury]. We don't want to have any excuses or justifications.

"I realise that it's a delicate moment for the boys. They will have my support. They will certainly want to be competitive again soon."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is stepping up his Milan comeback after filming himself with the ball at his feet at the club's Milanello training ground.

The 41-year-old signed a one-year contract last July but has been sidelined ever since while recovering from knee surgery.

Ibrahimovic, who has scored 33 goals in 60 league appearances in his second spell with the Rossoneri, was a Serie A title winner last season.

Given his age, the end of his career is likely not far away. That is despite the former Barcelona and Manchester United player saying in September: "If I see a player stronger than me, I'll stop. But I haven't seen him yet."

Ibrahimovic's video shows him taking small steps with the ball at his feet, before pausing at the end of the penalty area and turning the camera to point at the goal. It then shows him smiling into the camera and raising his eyebrows, as though to signal his eagerness to get back into scoring action.

Milan, who are 12 points behind league leaders Napoli, have Champions League last-16 games against Tottenham coming up on February 14 and March 8, plus a Serie A derby with Inter on February 5.

Cristiano Ronaldo must accept "he is not 25 years old" anymore and follow the examples of veterans Ryan Giggs, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paolo Maldini.

That was the message from Manchester United great Eric Cantona, who referenced the leading role Ibrahimovic has played at Milan despite his status diminishing to a squad role.

Ronaldo parted ways with United in an acrimonious exit after stating he felt "betrayed" by the club and had little respect for Red Devils head coach Erik ten Hag and former interim boss Ralf Rangnick.

The Portugal forward started just 10 of United's 21 matches prior to his departure, though Cantona suggested the 37-year-old should have handled the situation in a different manner.

Ibrahimovic played through injury as Milan ended an 11-year wait for the Scudetto last term, scoring eight goals in 23 Serie A games to support Stefano Pioli's regular starters Olivier Giroud and Rafael Leao.

Cantona told CalcioMercato: "There are two types of veterans: those who want to play every game because they still think they're 25 and those who realise they're not 25 and are here to help young players, they know they won't play every game, but they're aware that they'll have their moment.

"There are players who help new players: Ibrahimovic still does it with Milan, Ryan Giggs or Maldini himself when he was at Milan. 

"Cristiano Ronaldo doesn't realise he's not 25 years old. He's already older and doesn't know that, instead of being unhappy about not having played all the time, he should accept the situation."

Ronaldo could make his debut for Al Nassr against Ettifaq next Sunday after missing clashes with Al Tai and Al Shabab due to a two-match ban from the English Football Association.

As well as bringing an end to a long-running transfer saga, Cristiano Ronaldo's move to Al Nassr likely brings the curtain down on one of the greatest careers in elite European football history.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner will unquestionably become the highest-profile player to feature in the Saudi Pro League when he makes his debut, but he is by no means the first to make a move of that nature.

A tradition of elite players spending the twilight of their careers in an unfamiliar league – whether for one last payday or to raise the profile of the competition – is long-running.

Here, Stats Perform looks at how a series of other superstars fared after making comparable moves, including all-time greats Pele and Johan Cruyff, and a legendary Spanish midfield duo.
 

Pele (New York Cosmos)

When Pele joined the North American Soccer League (NASL)'s New York Cosmos in 1975, the Brazilian had already cemented his place among the very greatest to play the game by winning three World Cups – the first as a teenager and the last as part of one of the all-time great Selecao teams.

Despite his advancing years, Pele's class remained on display in the United States, where he scored 37 goals and registered 30 assists in three years with the Cosmos, who won the NASL's Soccer Bowl in 1977. 

 

Franz Beckenbauer (New York Cosmos)

Having signed one World Cup legend in Pele, the Cosmos repeated the trick in 1977 with the acquisition of Beckenbauer, who played four seasons for the club either side of a brief return to Germany with Hamburg.

The Bayern Munich great can certainly count his time in the NASL as a success, winning three Soccer Bowls – the latter two without Pele.

Johan Cruyff (Los Angeles Aztecs and Washington Diplomats)

As another highly decorated player moving to the NASL in the late 1970s, Cruyff represented both the Los Angeles Aztecs and the Washington Diplomats following his brief retirement in 1978.

The Dutch innovator complained of playing on artificial surfaces in the United States before bucking the trend of most players on this list – Cruyff returned to Europe in the twilight of his career, leading Ajax to two further Eredivisie titles as well as winning the division with their rivals Feyenoord. 

Samuel Eto'o (Anzhi Makhachkala)

While every transfer on this list was left-field, few created as much shock as Samuel Eto'o's 2011 move from Inter to big-spending Russian outfit Anzhi Makhachkala. 

Eto'o reportedly became the world's best-paid player with his move to Anzhi, for whom he scored 25 league goals before billionaire owner Suleyman Kerimov scaled back ambitions at the now-defunct club, leading the striker to head to Chelsea.

 

David Beckham (LA Galaxy)

The NASL established the tradition of footballing luminaries arriving in the United States, but Beckham's 2007 move to LA Galaxy helped Major League Soccer break new ground.

Beckham won two MLS Cups and two Supporters' Shields with the Galaxy, but the wider impact of his move – which inspired several other big names to head stateside and led the former England captain to found Inter Miami – was huge. 

Xavi (Al Sadd)

Xavi called time on his playing career with Barcelona as a Champions League winner in 2015, opting to spend four years representing Qatar Stars League side Al Sadd before cutting his managerial teeth at the same club.

The 2010 World Cup winner won the Qatari top-flight once as a player and once as a coach before returning to Camp Nou last year, having both played and managed over 100 games with Al Sadd. 

Andres Iniesta (Vissel Kobe)

The second of Barca's pass masters left the European game in 2018, when Iniesta joined J1 league side Vissel Kobe in a shock move.

Considering he still captains the side at the age of 38, Iniesta must have enjoyed his time in Japan, where he has since been joined by compatriots Bojan Krkic and Sergi Samper.

James Rodriguez (Al Rayyan)

Whenever the World Cup rolls around, the idea of breakout stars is discussed. Few players have been more deserving of that tag than Colombia's Rodriguez, who top-scored at the 2014 edition.

Having enjoyed title successes with European heavyweights Real Madrid and Bayern Munich and enjoyed a – rather less successful – spell at Everton, Rodriguez is now plying his trade with Al Rayyan, who are languishing in eighth place in the Qatar Stars League.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy)

Most of the players named on this list enjoyed some form of success – whether it be on or off the pitch – after making their surprise moves, but few can match the feats of Ibrahimovic.

Ibrahimovic was – like Ronaldo – 37 when he left Manchester United in 2018, scoring 53 MLS goals for the Galaxy in two hugely successful seasons before returning to Europe to help Milan win the Scudetto earlier this year.

While Ronaldo now looks unlikely to return to the pinnacle of European football, if Ibrahimovic can do it, few would bet against the Portugal great doing likewise. 

 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has urged his Milan team-mate Rafael Leao to reject interest from other clubs and stay at San Siro in order to realise his "scary" potential.

Leao played a key role as Milan ended an 11-year wait to win the Scudetto last term, while no other Rossoneri player can match his tallies of six goals and four assists in Serie A this season.

The winger, who scored in Portugal's World Cup wins against Ghana and Switzerland, has been linked with the likes of Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool in recent months.

However, Ibrahimovic insists Milan is the best place for Leao to develop, highlighting the strides he has made since breaking into Stefano Pioli's team.  

"Of course, Milan is the right environment for him," Ibrahimovic told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "Just look at his growth, when he arrived, he was far from the decisive player he is today. 

"Here he is very important for us. Elsewhere, would he be as important? He would have to start from scratch, you can't be sure he would be ready right away.

"At Milan he has confidence, space and freedom, which is not a given at another club, it's up to you. 

"Besides, you can see that he is happy here, by now he is laughing even before scoring. He is the young man who has grown the most."

Several young players came to the fore as Milan edged out rivals Inter to win Serie A and Ibrahimovic believes Leao is the most exciting talent of all.

"Theo [Hernandez] has improved so much, [Charles] De Ketelaere is strong, and patience is needed. But Leao is on another level, above average," he added.

"He lacks a step, he will only do it when he is fully convinced of his abilities. Today, even he doesn't really know how strong he is. Then he will be really scary, and the price will go up."

Milan resume their Serie A campaign with a trip to Salernitana on January 4, having entered the World Cup break eight points adrift of leaders Napoli.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic believes it is "already written" Lionel Messi will win the World Cup with Argentina and thinks the full truth about Cristiano Ronaldo's Manchester United exit will never come to light.

Messi has been influential in Argentina's run to the semi-finals in Qatar where La Albiceleste will face Croatia on Tuesday.

Should Messi lift the most prestigious international trophy of all with his country, it will further enhance claims the Argentina legend is the greatest to have played the game.

Milan veteran Ibrahimovic, a former team-mate of Messi's at Barcelona, thinks this is the year the Paris Saint-Germain star will get his hands on the prize.

"I think it's already written who will win, and you know who I mean," Ibrahimovic said.

"I think Messi will lift the trophy, it's already written."

 

Cristiano Ronaldo, a long-term rival of Messi's in the greatest of all time debate, saw his own hopes of World Cup glory dashed by Portugal's surprise quarter-final defeat to Morocco.

It marked the latest blow in a tough period for the legendary forward, who left Manchester United by mutual consent in the wake of an incendiary TalkTV interview with Piers Morgan in which he criticised the club's hierarchy and boss Erik ten Hag.

Former United striker Ibrahimovic says with all sides defending themselves the actual events of what occurred will never be known.

"His exiting United, I think when things happen, we will never know the true story," he added.

"They say what they want to say, he says what he needs to say to protect himself, then you have the coach that says these things to protect himself. 

"Then the club says things – not like me, I will tell you how it really happened. But we are all different. Everybody is careful about their image. 

"For me the perfect image is being yourself. The true story we will not know my friend."

Lionel Messi is rumoured to become the latest superstar to move to MLS, with the Times reporting that the Argentina forward will join Inter Miami. 

Messi is out of contract with Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the season and has been continually linked with a return to Barcelona, having left the Blaugrana in 2021.

But Inter Miami are said to be "confident" the 35-year-old will sign following the conclusion of the World Cup in Qatar, where he has scored in both of Argentina's group stage matches, though he would not move until the conclusion of PSG's season.

Should the move materialise, Messi would join a host of big names to ply their trade in the United States. Here are some of the most notable examples.

David Beckham

The former England captain shocked the world when he swapped Real Madrid for LA Galaxy in 2007, though his blockbuster move certainly put MLS on the map.

Beckham made 118 appearances during his five-year spell with Galaxy, scoring 20 goals, while helping the franchise to successive MLS Cup triumphs in his final two seasons.

Thierry Henry

Arsenal and France's all-time leading scorer scored 52 goals in 135 games for the New York Red Bulls between 2010 and 2014, helping them win the 2013 Supporters' Shield and making four All-Star appearances.

Henry also coached Montreal Impact from 2019 to 2021, guiding them into the playoffs during his only full season in charge.

David Villa

Spain's all-time leading marksman became New York City's first signing when he joined from Atletico Madrid ahead of their debut MLS season in 2015.

A four-time All-Star, Villa would go on to score 80 goals in 126 appearances before departing for Japanese side Vissel Kobe at the end of the 2018 season.

Kaka

The former Ballon d'Or winner became Orlando City's first designated player when he agreed to join the new franchise in 2014.

Kaka played 78 times for City, scoring 25 goals, while he was an All-Star in each of his three seasons.

Andrea Pirlo

A multiple Scudetto winner with Milan and Juventus, Pirlo was unable to truly leave his mark on MLS during his stint with New York City.

Nevertheless, the former Italy midfielder did help the franchise reach the playoffs in 2016 and 2017, while racking up 62 appearances and netting once.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Ibrahimovic certainly hit the ground running after switching Manchester United for LA Galaxy, scoring twice on his debut in a 4-3 win over rivals Los Angeles FC, including a 45-yard screamer.

That set the tone for a prolific two-year spell for the former Sweden international, who netted 53 times in 58 appearances before returning to Italy for a second stint at Milan.

Wayne Rooney

England's all-time leading scorer helped D.C. United reach the play-offs in his first season after joining from Everton in 2018, while he will always be remembered for his last-ditch tackle and cross-field assist to Luciano Acosta that sealed a dramatic 3-2 win over Orlando City.

Rooney scored 25 goals in 52 appearances for United and, following a spell at Derby County, he returned to the franchise as head coach in July. 

Gonzalo Higuain

A league title winner with Real Madrid and Juventus, Higuain swapped Italy for the States in September 2020.

Despite missing a penalty on his debut against Philadelphia Union, the former Argentina striker went on to score 29 goals in 70 appearances before retiring at the end of the 2022 MLS season.

Lionel Messi is rumoured to become the latest superstar to move to the MLS, with the Times reporting that the Argentina forward will join Inter Miami. 

Messi is out of contract with Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the season and has been continually linked with a return to Barcelona, having left the Blaugrana in 2021.

But Inter Miami are said to be "confident" the 35-year-old will sign following the conclusion of the World Cup in Qatar, where he has scored in both of Argentina's group stage matches, though he would not move until the conclusion of PSG's season.

Should the move materialise, Messi would join a host of big names to ply their trade in the United States. Here are some of the most notable examples.

David Beckham

The former England captain shocked the world when he swapped Real Madrid for LA Galaxy in 2007, though his blockbuster move certainly put the MLS on the map.

Beckham made 118 appearances during his five-year spell with Galaxy, scoring 20 goals, while helping the franchise to successive MLS Cup triumph in his final two seasons.

Thierry Henry

Arsenal and France's all-time leading scorer scored 52 goals in 135 games for the New York Red Bulls between 2010 and 2014, helping them win the 2013 Supporters' Shield and making four All-Star appearances.

Henry also coached Montreal Impact from 2019 to 2021, guiding them into the playoffs during his only full season in charge.

David Villa

Spain's all-time leading marksman became New York City's first signing when he joined from Atletico Madrid ahead of their debut MLS season in 2015.

A four-time All-Star, Villa would go on to score 80 goals in 126 appearances before departing for Japanese side Vissel Kobe at the end of the 2018 season.

Kaka

The former Ballon d'Or winner became Orlando City's first designated player when he agreed to join the new franchise in 2014.

Kaka played 78 times for City, scoring 25 goals, while he was an All-Star in each of his three seasons.

Andrea Pirlo

A multiple Scudetto winner with Milan and Juventus, Pirlo was unable to truly leave his mark on the MLS during his stint with New York City.

Nevertheless, the former Italy midfielder did help the franchise reach the playoffs in 2016 and 2017, while racking up 62 appearances and netting once.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Ibrahimovic certainly hit the ground running after switching Manchester United for LA Galaxy, scoring twice on his debut in a 4-3 win over rivals Los Angeles FC, including a 45-yard screamer.

That set the tone for a prolific two-year spell for the former Sweden international, who netted 53 times in 58 appearances before returning to Italy for a second stint at Milan.

Wayne Rooney

England's all-time leading scorer helped D.C. United reach the play-offs in his first season after joining from Everton in 2018, while he will always be remembered for his last-ditch tackle and cross-field assist to Luciano Acosta that sealed a dramatic 3-2 win over Orlando City.

Rooney scored 25 goals in 52 appearances for United and, following a spell at Derby County, he returned to the franchise as head coach in July. 

Gonzalo Higuain

A league title winner with Real Madrid and Juventus, Higuain swapped Italy for the States in September 2020.

Despite missing a penalty on his debut against Philadelphia Union, the former Argentina striker went on to score 29 goals in 70 appearances before retiring at the end of the 2022 MLS season.

Novak Djokovic has no doubt in his own mind he is the best tennis player in the world, regardless of what the rankings say.

After clinching a record-equalling sixth ATP Finals title by downing Casper Ruud in Turin, Djokovic reflected on a turbulent 2022 season in which he was unable to play in two of the four grand slam events.

His refusal to accept a COVID-19 vaccination meant Djokovic was denied permission to compete at the Australian Open and US Open, while the various tennis authorities' reaction to the Ukraine crisis meant no ranking points were on offer at Wimbledon.

Indeed, Djokovic successfully defended his title at the All England Club, but in doing so he lost all of his 2,000 points for being the 2021 champion.

As such, he entered the ATP Finals as the world number eight, with his unbeaten run at the tournament seeing him collect 1,500 points and jump up to fifth on the ATP ranking list.

Carlos Alcaraz is the number one for now, after a stellar season for the 19-year-old Spaniard in which the highlight was his US Open victory, but Djokovic will be the favourite with many for the Australian Open, with authorities expected to allow him to play next year.

Asked if he was the world's best player, Djokovic said: "I'm not. I'm fifth."

That came with a smile from the Serbian, who added: "This week I probably am [the best]. Overall the rankings are showing who had the best year, and Alcaraz is the number one in the world. Not much to say about that.

"But in my mind I always see myself as the best player in the world, of course. I have that kind of mentality and that kind of approach. Regardless of who is across the net, regardless of what the surface is, regardless of what season it is, what number of the professional season in my career we're facing, I mean, it's always the same. The ambitions are as high as possible.

"That kind of approach, I feel it brought me to where I am sitting here today as a 35-year-old, holding one of the biggest trophies in the sport."

The 21-time grand slam winner, one behind Rafael Nadal on the men's all-time singles list, said the prospects for future success come down to his "love and passion" for tennis.

"As long as that's there I'll do anything in my power to challenge the young guys for the biggest trophies," Djokovic said.

"I don't know what the future holds, but I know that what I hold in my mind is a huge hunger still to win trophies, make history of this sport, compete on the highest level all around the world, bring good emotions to sports fans, tennis fans."

Djokovic was greeted after the final by Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, another sporting evergreen at the age of 41, albeit very much in his career twilight.

The same cannot be said yet for Djokovic, who may have several seasons left at this high level.

His coach, former Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic, watched on admiringly as Djokovic won 7-5 6-3 in Turin against Ruud on Sunday.

According to Croatian Ivanisevic, the key to Djokovic's success in his mid-thirties is his relentless work rate.

"He's practising even harder than when he was 22," said Ivanisevic. "That's why he's still so good and that's why he's still going to be even better.

"The will to practise, the will to improve, the will to be better is amazing. He's taking care of his body. In my time we stopped tennis at 30, 31. You were already an old guy ready to leave.

"They all talk about, yes, young players are coming. It's great for tennis. You have the youngest number one in the world who made unbelievable things this year, Carlos. But look at Novak. He's still hungry, he's still winning the tournament, playing unbelievable tennis. He's still already thinking now about preparation for next season.

"Till he's like that, in his mind he's going to be always competitive, favourite to win majors and the big tournaments."

Pep Guardiola issued a sarcastic response to Zlatan Ibrahimovic's claim the Manchester City manager's ego could hold Erling Haaland back, joking he was "jealous" of his striker.

Haaland has scored 17 goals in his first 11 Premier League appearances, making light of suggestions he could struggle to adapt to Guardiola's style of play.

However, Ibrahimovic – who famously failed to connect with Guardiola when working with him at Barcelona – has suggested the City boss would not take kindly to Haaland's incredible exploits.

Speaking to Canal+, Ibrahimovic said: "Can Guardiola make Haaland even stronger? It depends on Guardiola's ego, if he lets him become bigger than him or not. He didn't let me get bigger."

Those comments were put to Guardiola at a press conference looking ahead to Saturday's Premier League meeting with Fulham, provoking a satirical reply from the City boss.

"He's right. He's completely right," Guardiola sarcastically said. "In this club, in this team, my ego is beyond the performance of the players. 

"I don't like it when Erling scores three goals and all the highlights are for him. I'm so jealous, honestly. So jealous. I said afterward: 'Please, Erling, don't score any more goals'. 

"I want The Sun, The Daily Mail to talk about me. He's right. He knows me perfectly."

Erling Haaland's Manchester City progress will be down to Pep Guardiola's ego, says Zlatan Ibrahimovic, while the striker also thinks Kylian Mbappe made a mistake staying with Paris Saint-Germain.

Norway international Haaland arrived at the Etihad Stadium during the last transfer window from Borussia Dortmund and has thus far lived up to the hype that surrounded his signing.

With 22 goals in a combined 15 games between the Premier League and Champions League already, the sky appears to be the limit for the forward this season.

But veteran Milan attacker Ibrahimovic, while a fan of the Leeds-born striker, fears his progress could be stymied by Guardiola, a coach whom he famously failed to connect with at Barcelona.

"Can Guardiola make Haaland even stronger? It depends on Guardiola's ego, if he lets him become bigger than him or not," the Sweden international told Canal+.

"He didn't let me get bigger, me [and] others. Not only me, [but] many others [too]. I like Haaland, very much so. I think he is a very intelligent player. He doesn't do things he is not capable of."

Ibrahimovic also weighed in on the future PSG forward Mbappe, whose next step remains the subject of feverish speculation.

The France attacker penned an extension to stay with the Ligue 1 champions, turning down a move to Real Madrid, but has reportedly seen his working relationships subsequently break down at the club.

On whether he should have made the switch to LaLiga, Ibrahimovic added: "He made the right choice for Paris, not for himself.

"He put himself in a situation where is more important than the club. Then the club gave him the keys for that. But you are never bigger than a club."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic believes French football is "collapsing" without him, declaring the presence of Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Lionel Messi as "not enough".

Ibrahimovic enjoyed a trophy-laden spell with Paris Saint-Germain between 2012 and 2016, winning 12 domestic honours including four consecutive Ligue 1 titles.

The Sweden striker's tally of 156 goals for PSG, meanwhile, is only bettered by Edinson Cavani (200) and Mbappe (188) in the club's history, although his return of 0.87 goals per game is better than both of those players.

Ibrahimovic, who is expected to return for Milan in 2023 after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury at the end of last season, claims Ligue 1 has suffered for his absence.

Speaking to Canal+, Ibrahimovic said: "Since I left France, everything is collapsing. 

"There is no longer any interesting subject. France needs me, but I don't need France. 

"Even if you have Mbappe, Neymar and Messi, it's not enough, because you don't have God."

Mbappe (11), Neymar (10) and Messi (seven) have scored a combined 28 league goals for PSG this season after all three men netted in Saturday's dramatic 4-3 victory over Troyes.

 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has continued to have a positive impact at Milan during his recovery from an anterior cruciate ligament injury, according to Stefano Pioli. 

The 41-year-old, who has scored 33 goals in 60 league appearances in his second spell with the Rossoneri, underwent surgery in May.

Ibrahimovic's career appeared to be in danger at that time, but the Sweden great declared last month: "If I see a player stronger than me, I'll stop. But I haven't seen him yet."

While the striker is not expected to feature for the Scudetto holders until 2023, Pioli says he has been a "positive" figure around the Rossoneri squad during his layoff. 

Speaking ahead of Saturday's Serie A meeting with Monza, Pioli said: "Zlatan, in everything he says and does, is never trivial. He is very intelligent.

"He knows how we want to play and how we prepare for matches, and he confronts me. His presence is positive.

"His recovery is still a little bit long. It will take some time to see him again on the pitch; it is nice, however, to see him here in Milanello, he is fine with the boys."

 

Milan have won seven of their first 10 games of a Serie A season as defending champions for the first time since 1992-93, when they retained the Scudetto, but they still sit three points adrift of leaders Napoli.

However, Pioli believes his side deserve to have won more points than they have, adding: "The calendar is completely different, compared to the first half of last year.

"In my opinion, we deserved to collect something more, like with Napoli [a 2-1 home loss last month], for example. Then there were some negative situations that need to be improved. Our level must always be high."

Pioli also offered an update on the condition of Mike Maignan following reports suggesting the France goalkeeper could miss the World Cup after suffering a setback in his battle against a calf injury.

"We are sorry for Mike," Pioli said. "We evaluated everything possible, he wanted to play in Verona [last Sunday], we had checked everything, but this injury will keep him out at least until January."

While the absence of Maignan would leave France lacking competition for Hugo Lloris between the sticks, French media reports have since claimed the 27-year-old could still recover in time to travel to Qatar, with Pioli's words said to be referring only to his club availability.

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