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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

Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.

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