Milan 3, Verona 1: Hard to Say GodBye

There will only ever be one Zlatan Ibrahimović. After Milan defeated Verona 3-1, there was a special tribute to the legendary player to say farewell to him. Only the surprise was that he also announced that he was saying farewell to football. Not that I would have wanted to see him wear another shirt, but, like the players said, "We were not ready." I know this is supposed to be a match review, but between all of the tears, forgive me if it is as much about how hard it is to say GodBye.

The only way to say farewell to a deity

The match started with the Curva Sud paying tribute to the giant Swedish striker with their "GodBye" coreo that brought Zlatan to tears. Shown on camera throughout the match sitting with his wife and sons, he gave a heart sign to the fans for the love the fans showed him. It was clear that this match was bigger than football – at least 6'5" (1.96m) and 24 professional years of a footballing legend bigger.

This is how the match started. How were we supposed to watch through the tears?

The first half saw Milan dominate possession, but they were unable to capitalize on any of their chances. It wasn't until the 44th minute, when Brahim Díaz was fouled and a VAR review determined that Milan should be given a penalty that the scoring was opened. Giroud stepped up and converted that penalty to make it 1-0 Milan, and score his 13th league goal of the season. That made 18 goals in all competitions, his most prolific season since 2015-16. Zlatan has helped everyone raise their game.

Giroud completes an epic season, pays homage to Zlatan.

The second half was far more eventful. Verona amassed four yellow cards, and a red card for assistant manager and former Milan player Bocchetti. Theo Hernández also got a token yellow card for us to remember his season by. The referee, Valeri, was very busy. Verona were also quite busy for the first part of the second half, despite only having 21% possession for the entire match. Maignan actually was a bit lucky to not be sent off in the 57th as he came all the way out to challenge Ngonge when left one v. one. But he did get the ball first, and VAR confirmed Valeri's call that it was not a foul.

Hopefully Krunić was not seriously injured.

Around the 70th minute, Krunić was injured, and had to be subbed off, so Pobega replaced him. De Ketelaere also replaced Brahim Díaz, who may or may not be in the team next season, as discussed previously. The fans cheering for him seem to have distracted the Milan players, because the next minute, the defense was caught sleeping and Faraoni took advantage of it and scored the equalizer. 1-1 all. That seemed just plain disrespectful to Zlatan.

Pioli brought on Florenzi and Saelemaekers, and just a minute later, Leão kicked it into gear and took a pass from Tomori and scored a brilliant goal. 2-1 Milan. He immediately ran over to hug Zlatan, whom he had thanked for his mentoring during his renewal interview. It was the perfect way to properly thank him, by taking the lead back in Zlatan's farewell match.

The best way to honor your mentor.

In the 89th, Pioli did something both classy and telling - he subbed Mirante on for Maignan to give him a single competitive appearance for Milan before his contract is up. Which means he is definitely not going to be renewed. But it was really very kind of Pioli, and the fans were very kind and supportive, too, even when he completely missed the first ball he went after. To his credit, he did not concede in the seven minutes he played. The power of Zlatan was with him.

A classy way to say goodbye to a hardworking backup goalkeeper.

De Ketelaere found an opportunity, and he took a powerful shot, but he was just too far out, and it went wide. Then, two minutes into stoppage time, Leão decided that one goal was not enough to honor his "big brother" Zlatan, so he took a cross from Saelemaekers, dribbled past defenders and around Montipó, and scored another one. 3-1 Milan. It was his way of saying that Zlatan's legacy would live on.

Leão and Saelemaekers celebrate the third goal in style.

But the final whistle was only the beginning. Sure, the game was over, but the tears were just beginning. Milan had a special tribute planned for Zlatan. They literally rolled out the red carpet and the players and staff created a guard of honor for him. All of the players were wearing Ibrahimović jerseys, and there were tears everywhere as a brief highlight video of his career at Milan (both chapters) was played in the stadium.

Ibrahimović came through the honor guard, appropriately dressed in black, and Maldini presented him with a special framed jersey that was signed by everyone. Then it was really time for the Kleenex as Zlatan took the microphone. After graciously thanking everyone, he announced that he was retiring. He said he would always be a Milanista, and that we would see him around – if we were lucky. And honestly, I felt lucky that he would consider gracing us with his presence again. He just has that effect on people.

It was the perfect farewell that none of us wanted. Not the fans, not the players, not Maldini, and certainly not Zlatan himself. Surely, this is not how he wanted to leave, having barely played all season. And yet, his "indomitable" spirit is so admirable. After having sacrificed his knee for us last season to win the Scudetto, he was so brave to go through all of that rehabilitation and try to play at all.

The honor was all ours.

So, at the age of 41, Zlatan did not really retire from football so much as football retired from Zlatan. He has scored 156 Serie A goals, the most goals of any foreign player since arriving in Italy in 2004-05. But he was so much more than an epic goalscorer. He brought physicality, strength, mentality, and emotions on and off the pitch like no other player before him. There is no one else like him, no one who will ever be able to fill those giant Swedish shoes. 

What he means to Milan is indescribable. Sure, the club existed before him, and it will continue to exist without him. But when he wore the red and black, he elevated the team, the individual players, and our hearts. He took us to a new dimension that no one else could – God mode. And he was nearly invincible, too, until his body just couldn't keep up with the mind of a true champion.

Bowing out in style, with the love of 72,000 fans surrounding him, and not one dry eye to be found.

There just are not enough words to accurately relate what he meant to Milan or to me. It was perfect that we won tonight for him, and even perfect that Verona got the chance to have a playoff for relegation instead of going down at our hands. Despite his reputation, Zlatan has a heart of gold and is a true sportsman. He would not want his day to be about Verona's relegation. He would want it to be about him Milan. For everything he was, everything he has given to this club, and everything he has become, it is truly hard to say GodBye.

This post inspired by the music of Queen's "Who Wants to Live Forever"

Milan 3, Verona 1: Hard to Say GodBye Milan 3, Verona 1: Hard to Say GodBye Reviewed by Elaine on 11:59 PM Rating: 5
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