AC Milan's Pioli urges champion Ibrahimovic to extend stay

Soccer Football - Serie A - AC Milan v Crotone - San Siro, Milan, Italy - February 7, 2021 AC Milan coach Stefano Pioli during the warm up before the match REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo

ROME (Reuters) - AC Milan coach Stefano Pioli insists he is not surprised by Zlatan Ibrahimovic's remarkable longevity and hinted that he would like the Swede to extend his contract with the Serie A club.

The 39-year-old striker scored the 500th club goal of his career in a 4-0 Serie A win over Crotone on Sunday to send Milan two points clear at the top of the table.

The Swede fired the opening goal into the top corner to hit the landmark before adding a second after the break, taking his seasonal tally to 16 goals in 17 games in all competitions.

But with Ibrahimovic's contract due to expire at the end of the season, Pioli was questioned about the possibility of a renewal.

“I don’t know. Zlatan is doing well with us and the best thing is that we work well together,” he told Sky Italia.

“We are a big club and we want to do well. But Zlatan will decide his future. For what he’s still showing on the pitch it’s right that he continues to play and continues to do that with us.”

Ibrahimovic is second only to Cristiano Ronaldo's 16 strikes in the Serie A scoring charts, with 14 league goals this season.

He has scored 27 goals in 37 games since returning to Milan for a second spell in January 2020 and is now spearheading their bid for a first Serie A title in 10 years.

“It’s hard for me to be surprised by what Ibra is doing because he’s a champion,” Pioli said.

“It’s difficult to maintain what he is doing, because he scores two goals every time he plays. That’s Ibra. He has helped us so much and is helping the team to grow.”

Ibrahimovic scored the first of his 501 club goals for Swedish side Malmo more than 21 years ago in October 1999, and Pioli was asked what the striker’s secret is as he continues to perform at the top level.

“He is a hugely motivated athlete, who takes care of his physique in a scrupulous manner, perfect with everything: his nutrition, his recovery, his prevention,” Pioli said.

“Clearly, to stay at these levels you must be an exceptional professional supported by a physique that few people have.

“He’s always the first to arrive at training but now the others are competing over who gets there first and leaves last.”

(Reporting by Alasdair Mackenzie, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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