Veteran AC Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimović announced his immediate retirement from football at the end of an emotional night at the San Siro on Sunday.
Ibrahimović was out of contract with the Serie A club at the end of the season and Milan had already announced that there would be a special ceremony after their match against Hellas Verona to sack the 41-year-old Swede.
But Ibrahimović later revealed at a press conference that no one knew what big news he was about to deliver.
“Even my family didn’t know, because I wanted when I announced it to be heard by everyone at the same time,” he said.
Ibrahimović was given an honor guard by his teammates as he walked out after the game at the San Siro. He fought back tears as he took the microphone and said: “The time has come to say goodbye to football but not to you.”
Ibrahimović scored 93 goals in 163 appearances in two spells at Milan. He returned in January 2020 and helped Milan win the Serie A title last year, his second league trophy with the Rossoneri.
But he has struggled with injury and made only four appearances this season after undergoing knee surgery last year.
“I have so many memories and emotions inside this stadium,” said Ibrahimović. “The first time I arrived you gave me happiness, the second time you gave me love.
“I want to thank my family… I want to thank my second family: the players. I want to thank the coach and his coaching staff for the responsibility, I want to thank the managers for the opportunity. Last but not least, from my heart, I want to thank the fans.”
He also enjoyed trophy-filled seasons at Paris Saint-Germain, Inter Milan, Barcelona, Juventus and Ajax, and began his career at Malmo, his hometown club.
He made 122 appearances for Sweden, scoring 62 goals.
Many of the fans at the San Siro on Sunday were in tears, as were most of his teammates, who wore jerseys with their name and team number on the back.
Ibrahimović told reporters that he struggled to find someone who wasn’t crying as he looked around during his speech for someone to give him the strength to hold back his own tears.
Ibrahimović couldn’t resist making a joke either.
“I woke up this morning and it was raining, and I thought ‘Even God is crying,’” she said with a smile.
There were emotional scenes even before kick-off when a giant banner was unfurled at one end of the stadium with the words “Goodbye”. Fans chanted his name and Ibrahimović was moved to tears as he clasped his hands in the shape of a heart and blew kisses to the fans.
However, he ended his speech with a smile and in typical Ibrahimović fashion.
He said: “It’s too hard, there are so many emotions running through me right now. But I’ll say, ‘I’ll see you around, if you’re lucky.’”
Ibrahimović then walked around the stadium with the song “Simply the Best”.