Zlatan Ibrahimovic is sticking to his guns despite coming in for criticism after stating that athletes like LeBron James should steer clear of politics.

The Milan forward found himself at the centre of controversy after saying the likes of James should "do what you're good at" rather than engage in any kind of activism.

Los Angeles Lakers star James hit back and vowed never to "just stick to sports", insisting he had a role to play as a voice against racism and other pressing societal issues.

James is a friend of former United States president Barack Obama and his own foundation supports a school that is aimed at helping disadvantaged children. 

But Ibrahimovic, who has also been criticised for agreeing to appear in the Sanremo music festival amid the Serie A season, refused to back down.

"Racism and politics are two different things. Athletes unite the world, politics divides it," said the 39-year-old, who was injured in Sunday's 2-1 win over Roma and could be sidelined for up to three weeks, which would rule him out of facing former club Manchester United in the Europa League later this month.

"Everyone is welcome in our environment, it doesn't matter where you come from and we are doing everything to bring people together.

"My message? Athletes should be athletes, politicians should be politicians."

Responding to questions over his appearance at the music event, which spans four days, while Milan fight for the title, the Swede added: "I'm a professional and anyone who knows me, knows that. When I play football I'm only focused on that.

"I want to help Milan, and to give a lot to Italy for everything that it has given me over the years, not only in football.

"I had the chance to be a guest at the festival, one of the most important in Italy, and decided to participate."

Juventus' players still believe they can claim a 10th consecutive Serie A title this season, according to head coach Andrea Pirlo. 

The Bianconeri are 10 points behind leaders Inter, although they have a game in hand on Antonio Conte's side.

That comes at home to Spezia on Tuesday, with Juve looking to address a worrying run of form which has seen them win just once in their past five games across all competitions. 

They have, however, won their five most recent top-flight matches at the Allianz Stadium, scoring at least two goals in each of them (14 in total) and keeping a clean sheet in the past three. 

Despite the gap to Inter, Conte insists his side have not given up hope of sealing yet another Scudetto. 

"I wouldn't say we can chase the Scudetto if I didn't know that the team thinks so too," he told a media conference on Monday. 

"I know the lads believe it, they train well and want to go back to winning the title and this makes me feel comfortable.

"We don't look at who is above us or behind us, we concentrate on ourselves. The goal must remain the same. There are many games and as long as there's room to recover, we will be there.

"The initial goal was to win them all, we know we lost a few points, but that is in the past. We have to look to the future and the future is Spezia."

Juve have won 21 of their past 23 Serie A home matches against promoted sides, keeping 14 clean sheets in the process.

They face a spirited Spezia side, though, with only Inter (14) gaining more points from a losing position than Vincenzo Italiano's men (nine) in Serie A this season. Seven of those came in away matches, which is the joint-most alongside Benevento. 

And Pirlo knows his side will have to be at their best to claim all three points. 

"Spezia are proving to be up for Serie A, having a great championship," the Juve boss added. "They have achieved great results against the big teams too. It will be a difficult match.

"It will be an important match for us and we must continue to fight for the Scudetto. We will have to play an intense game from the first minute.

"We know we have been caught on four occasions, but each match was different. We have analysed the mistakes made and we will try to avoid repeating them."

David Alaba has appeared set to swap Bayern Munich for Real Madrid.

Alaba is keen for a new challenge following a successful partnership with Bundesliga and Champions League holders Bayern.

But three of Europe's elite are still reportedly eyeing Alaba.

 

TOP STORY – TRIO NOT GIVING UP ON ALABA

Liverpool, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain are still trying to sign wantaway Bayern Munich star David Alaba, according to Fabrizio Romano's Benchwarmers column.

Alaba will leave Bundesliga champions Bayern on a free transfer at the end of the season and he has been tipped to join LaLiga holders Real Madrid.

However, Liverpool, Chelsea and PSG are still pursuing the Austria international.

 

ROUND-UP

- RAC1 suggests Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is one of Barcelona presidential candidate Joan Laporta's targets if Ronald Koeman does not remain at Camp Nou beyond 2020-21.

Madrid are interested in Manchester United target and Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, reports the Daily Star. Sancho was wanted by United at the start of the season but a big-money move did not materialise.

- Mundo Deportivo claims Atletico Madrid are tracking Lyon midfielder Bruno Guimaraes, who is valued at around €25million.

Manchester United and Premier League rivals Leeds United are eyeing Torino defender Nicolas Nkoulou, according to Tuttosport. The 30-year-old is set to become a free agent at season's end.

- L'Equipe says Mauro Icardi is free to leave PSG if a suitable offer arrives amid links to Juventus. Icardi is contracted to the Ligue 1 champions until 2024, but PSG are focused on re-signing Kylian Mbappe and making Moise Kean's loan deal from Everton permanent. If Mbappe departs for Madrid, PSG will look to raise funds by selling Icardi as they dream of Tottenham's Harry Kane and Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland.

Milan technical director Paolo Maldini said the club are weighing up whether to sign Fikayo Tomori permanently from Premier League giants Chelsea.

Tomori has impressed since arriving on loan in January, the 23-year-old's impact highlighted by his starting berth at the expense of captain Alessio Romagnoli in Milan's 2-1 win over Roma on Sunday.

Milan have an option to buy Tomori at the end of the season – the fee reportedly in the region of £25million (€28m).

Asked about Tomori's future prior to Milan's Serie A victory away to Roma, Maldini told Sky Sport Italia: "Tomori is a good talent and we have a buy-option clause.

"The price is very high. AC Milan will decide at the end of this season and we will discuss it with Chelsea's board."

"Fortunately, I work for a club that has an effect on players. When AC Milan call, the players always listen," Maldini added.

"Fikayo is a player with particular characteristics, pace and intensity, so we thought he could be a good reinforcement for this second half of the season.

"Naturally, Romagnoli isn't happy, no player is when he doesn't play. However, Milan are 17 points better off than last season, we're second despite having more commitments and many injuries, so squad rotation is necessary and Alessio has played pretty much every game."

Tomori partnered Simon Kjaer in Milan's defence as second-placed Milan stayed within four points of leaders Inter after 24 matches.

Franck Kessie and Ante Rebic scored for Milan, while Tomori had an early goal ruled out for offside.

Tomori had a team-high six clearances and two blocks, while he attempted the most passes (60) with an accuracy of 88.3 per cent at the heart of Milan's defence.

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli hailed Englishman Tomori post-match: "I expected this performance, because Tomori played a derby a couple of days after joining us, so he's been at this level from the start.

"I still believe it's the collective that allows the individual to perform and all together we won a very important match.

"Roma have players with a lot of pace and quality in attack, so we knew that we were taking a risk, but we also recovered more balls in the opposition half – finally – and were therefore more dangerous in attack.

"It's about weighing up the costs and benefits of an approach, and this approach is giving us more benefits."

Ante Rebic struck the winner as Milan got the better of Roma in a wild Stadio Olimpico clash to narrow the gap on leaders Inter with a 2-1 win.

The Serie A title battle might have been all but over if Milan had lost this game, but chances came thick and fast and it was a wonder there were only three goals.

The first was a Franck Kessie penalty in the 43rd minute, but Roma got level early in the second half thanks to Jordan Veretout's fine finish.

Rebic scored a classy winner just before the hour; however, he and Zlatan Ibrahimovic both left the fray with injury concerns, having played their part in trimming Inter's lead to four points.

Antonio Conte believes Inter's hard work is paying off as they target a first Serie A title since the 2009-10 season.

The Nerazzurri sealed a fifth consecutive top-flight win on Sunday, with goals from Romelu Lukaku, Matteo Darmian and Alexis Sanchez securing a 3-0 victory over Genoa at San Siro.

It was Inter's sixth straight top-flight win against Genoa without conceding a single goal – the first time they have achieved this against any opponent in the competition.

The result moved them seven points clear of Milan at the Serie A summit, although Stefano Pioli's side had the chance to rein them in with victory over Roma later on Sunday.

Conte was pleased with his side's display and said his players deserve recognition for being this season's standard-bearers ahead of Juventus, who have won the last nine titles.

"We played against a Genoa side in great shape," Conte told Sky Sport Italia.

"We had the right approach, allowing Genoa little other than a few crosses. We scored three goals, [Genoa goalkeeper] Mattia Perin had to make several big saves, so we are happy.

"All the work is paying off. It had already started to last year, but the team is developing belief in its capabilities, understanding the situations both on and off the ball, when to be aggressive, when to hold possession.

"These are Inter players, they must always have the ambition to win. It has been many years since Inter won anything, we came very close last season [they finished one point behind Juve], despite the fact it was my first year.

"In previous years, the gap with Juventus was a good 15 points for Inter. So, if we want to be objective and calculate the gap from the leaders and Inter before I arrived, last season was already an enormous step forward.

"I think we simply continued the project and we are doing something important, but there are 14 games to go.

"We have to continue like this, knowing the team have grown in every way, that we created wonderful synergy and empathy between everyone here, but winning is the aim."

Inter endured a disappointing Champions League campaign earlier this term, finishing bottom of Group B having won just one of their six games.

Conte believes that disappointment could well have provided the impetus for their Serie A title challenge, acknowledging it forced them to raise their game.

"I think we went out of the Champions League undeservedly, but that made us look inside ourselves and realise we all had to raise the bar, to be more competitive," he added.

"If we had been in the Champions League right now, I think we could've had our say in that tournament."

Inter travel to Parma in Serie A on Thursday before hosting Atalanta four days later.

Inter's Serie A title charge remains on course after goals from Romelu Lukaku, Matteo Darmian and Alexis Sanchez sealed a 3-0 win over Genoa at San Siro on Sunday. 

Belgium international Lukaku set them on their way to a fifth consecutive top-flight win with a goal inside the opening minute. 

Antonio Conte's side largely dominated proceedings thereafter, with Nicolo Barella striking the crossbar, and they wrapped up all three points in the second period through Darmian and Sanchez.

The result moved them seven points ahead of second-placed Milan, although Stefano Pioli's side can rein them back in with victory over Roma later on Sunday.

Inter started in blistering fashion, Lukaku firing into Mattia Perin's bottom-right corner from just outside the penalty area after 32 seconds – Inter's second-fastest Serie A goal since Opta started tracking such data in 2004-05.

Darmian clipped wide after 14 minutes, while Barella hit the bar with a long-range effort soon after.

Perin then kept out Lukaku's powerful strike shortly after the half-hour mark as Inter ultimately failed to double their advantage before the interval.

The hosts put the result beyond doubt in the 69th minute when Darmian lashed home his first Serie A goal for the club from 12 yards after being picked out by Lukaku. 

Substitute Sanchez then added gloss to the scoreline 13 minutes from full-time, heading in from close range after Lukaku's effort had been repelled by Perin. 

 

 

 

Jurgen Klopp out, Steven Gerrard in?

Klopp ended Liverpool's 30-year wait for league glory last season, but the German manager could be set for a return to his homeland.

His exit could see Gerrard return to Merseyside.

 

TOP STORY – GERRARD TO REPLACE KLOPP IN LIVERPOOL RETURN

Steven Gerrard may soon return to Anfield but as manager to replace Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp, according to The Mirror.

Liverpool reportedly expect Klopp to take up an opportunity with Germany in the near future amid doubts over long-time head coach Joachim Low.

As a result, Liverpool legend Gerrard has been sounded out as he has Rangers on a cusp of a drought-breaking league title in Scotland.

Gerrard, who made more than 700 appearances for Liverpool, took control of Rangers in 2018.

 

ROUND-UP

- Erling Haaland seems to be on every club's wish list but the Mirror reports Manchester City have joined the queue for the Borussia Dortmund star. City manager Pep Guardiola and Haaland's agent Mina Raiola have a testy relationship but the Premier League leaders will press ahead with an alleged £100million (€115m) deal. English pair Chelsea and Manchester United are also reportedly interested along with Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.

- Fabrizio Romano says Chelsea want to keep veteran defender Thiago Silva beyond the 2020-21 season. Chelsea signed Silva on a free transfer following his PSG exit.

- LaLiga giants Barcelona are in the market for a young defender and have set their sights on Inter's 21-year-old Alessandro Bastoni, according to Calciomercato.

Arsenal are in the hunt for Wigan Athletic sensation Kyle Joseph, with the teenager scoring five goals in 14 appearances. The Mirror claims the Gunners have joined Celtic and Rangers in their interest in the London-born Scotland youth international whose current contract expires in June.

Liverpool and rivals United are eyeing Leicester City's Harvey Barnes, reports the Mirror. The 23-year-old has established himself as a key player for the Foxes.

- Eric Bailly is in talks with United over a new long-term contract, claims The Sun. The 26-year-old defender, who has been plagued by injuries at Old Trafford, is out of contract in 2022. It comes amid United's reported interest in Sevilla's Jules Kounde, Ibrahima Konate of RB Leipzig and Brighton and Hove Albion star Ben White.

Andrea Pirlo felt Juventus did not have enough leaders who could "understand the moment" as they threw away two points at Hellas Verona in Serie A action on Saturday.

Defending Serie A champions Juve were heading for a second victory of the week after Cristiano Ronaldo netted early for the visitors in the second half.

But Antonin Barak's header 13 minutes from time rescued a point for Verona, who might then have snatched victory during the closing stages as Wojciech Szczesny saved smartly from influential substitute Darko Lazovic.

Juve head coach Pirlo was disappointed with the way the Bianconeri slipped up from a position of strength, having been made to work hard for their lead against a side they have failed to beat in three attempts.

"We're sorry because we knew it was going to be a difficult, dirty game," Pirlo told DAZN.

"We had interpreted it well. We were also able to take the lead, which was the hardest thing, but then we couldn't keep the result.

"We lacked a bit of aggression, especially for the goal. It was necessary to prevent [Lazovic] from crossing easily.

"These are issues that, unfortunately, the young players still do not understand, because these make the difference and make you take home points."

When Aaron Ramsey was substituted 22 minutes from time, six of the remaining Juve players were aged 23 or younger. Alessandro Di Pardo, introduced in place of Federico Chiesa late on, was a seventh.

Meanwhile, only Alex Sandro (147), Rodrigo Bentancur (102), Federico Bernardeschi (98), goalkeeper Szczesny (92) and Ronaldo (84) had made more than 50 league appearances for Juve.

Amid the lack of experience, Pirlo turned to Alex Sandro and Ronaldo to lift their colleagues, failing to do so as the defender was outjumped for Barak's leveller while the scorer of the opener ended the game having hit the target with only two of his seven attempts.

"When you have the advantage in these games, you have to try to bring it home," Pirlo added.

"But there was a lack of experienced players, many young players, therefore few who made themselves heard and understood the moment of the game.

"In fact, I asked Cristiano and Alex to make themselves heard, to make people understand the moment, but unfortunately there were too few [leaders].

"It's a shame to have dropped two points, because the most difficult thing was to take the lead and we had to make better use of this opportunity."

Juventus suffered another setback in their bid to rein in Serie A leaders Inter as they could only draw 1-1 at Hellas Verona on Saturday.

The defending champions are third but had the opportunity to close within five points of the frontrunners ahead of their game the following day.

Although the Bianconeri were made to work hard by Verona, they looked to be on course when Cristiano Ronaldo netted his 26th goal of the season early in the second half.

But Antonin Barak's header gave Verona a point they deserved, extending their unbeaten league run against Juve to three matches for the first time since the 1980s.

Juve made a rapid start and Aaron Ramsey had a low shot touched wide, but the best attempt of the first half soon followed at the other end as Wojciech Szczesny turned Marco Faraoni's header onto the crossbar.

The pace of the game slowed thereafter, although Marco Silvestri was asked to push away a Federico Chiesa effort.

The breakthrough goal arrived four minutes into the second period when Chiesa turned provider and squared to Ronaldo, whose finish slipped beyond Silvestri.

Juve failed to build on that strike, though, and Verona recovered a foothold and eventually parity as Barak towered over Alex Sandro from substitute Darko Lazovic's cross.

Verona looked the more likely to forge a winner, with Szczesny expertly denying Lazovic, but they settled instead for a point that means Juve are winless in three on the road in all competitions.

Antonio Conte has claimed Romelu Lukaku would not be out of place playing American Football, as he hailed the Inter star's "atypical" style of play.

Lukaku has been in sensational form throughout his Inter career. Last season – his first campaign with the Serie A giants – he finished with 23 league goals; only Ronaldo (25) and Istvan Nyers (26) have scored more in their debut seasons with the Nerazzurri. 

The 27-year-old Belgium forward also netted 30 times across all competitions for the first time in his career, and equalled Ronaldo's record from 1997-98 of 34 goals for Inter.

Lukaku has also struck up a brilliant relationship with fellow forward Lautaro Martinez.

Indeed, across the opening 23 Serie A games this term, the duo have combined for 30 goals – Lukaku scoring 17 times and Martinez adding another 13. It is the first time Inter have a pair of players having combined for as many goals after as many matches since 1958-59.

Lukaku made his mark in last week's Milan derby, setting up Martinez's opener before sealing a dominant 3-0 victory with a sublime solo goal.

"It's too easy to say that," Conte told Il Corriere della Sera when it was put to him that some fans had described Lukaku as "unstoppable".

"I wish Lukaku and Lautaro were given more space inside the box. I don't think it's a good thing for defenders."

Lukaku, through his time with both Everton and Manchester United prior to his move to Inter, was often at his best driving at goal from deep.

In particular at Everton, his now-international boss Roberto Martinez occasionally used him on the right flank to good effect, giving Lukaku the freedom to burst inside at pace onto his stronger left foot.

And Conte believes Lukaku would have been able to make a career in American Football, such is his physique and power.

"Lukaku is an atypical player, he is a speedy centre forward, he could play American Football," Conte added.

Earlier in the week, Belgium boss Martinez spoke highly of Lukaku, who he managed for three seasons at Everton before his departure in 2016, though the Spaniard swiftly landed a job in charge of the striker's national team.

"He scores like few others," Martinez told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "Create and score, create and score, create and score…

"He arrived in Milan at the perfect moment. He became a complete player, obviously thanks to Conte. Today, at his age, there are no strikers as strong as him.

"In the past, Romelu always had the potential to be able to do what he is demonstrating in Milan. For me it's not a surprise."

Antonio Conte acknowledges he has become a "pain in the a**" as he attempts to guide Inter to their first trophy in a decade.

Ahead of hosting Genoa on Sunday, Inter top Serie A after 23 games – their derby victory over Milan last week moving them four points clear of their city and title rivals.

Inter – who finished second in Serie A behind Juventus in Conte's debut season – last won a trophy in 2010-11, clinching their seventh Coppa Italia trophy.

The Nerazzurri have already seen two opportunities for silverware slip from their grasp this campaign, finishing bottom of their Champions League group and exiting the Coppa Italia in the semi-finals.

With Milan facing a tough trip to Roma and Juve further off the pace, Inter have the chance to consolidate their lead at the top when they hunt a ninth straight home win in Serie A.

It is a feat that only Juve and Roma have managed in the last 10 seasons.

Conte has not shied away from questioning not only his own players but also Inter's hierarchy, yet the former Italy coach believes his rather decisive style is what has helped transform Inter back into title contenders.

"When people talk about me, there is always a 'but'. They say: 'He is a good coach, but…', that 'but' stimulates me," Conte told Il Corriere Della Sera.

"Football is my passion. When I ended my career as a footballer, I started from the beginning with Arezzo. I had won everything as a footballer. Coach Conte had started from zero. Those who played in big clubs think they can be coaches, but it's different.

"An opponent would have pushed for Conte to be kicked out of Inter. As an opponent, I would want to kill my enemy, in a sporting [sense]. 

"I'm more prepared thanks to my experiences. I was advised not to join Inter, but I like challenges, and this one is the most difficult in my career.

"It's hard to change that mental chip. If you don't win for 10 years, you subconsciously get used to the situation, look for excuses or blame someone else, you don't see your limitations or flaws.

"The environment is imbued with this, it is important to work not only on the players but on every sector. So you raise the pressure and become a pain in the a**.

"This is the difference between winning and living peacefully. When I go to a club, I enter into it body and soul. I am passionate and passion makes the difference, it is contagious. If you feel the sense of belonging you give more. I don't know if we will win, but we will do everything to succeed.

“A coach is happy when a project lasts long. If you must leave after a short while, it leaves bitterness. Making your mark and staying for many years is the most beautiful thing. I wish there were continuity in everything."

While his determination to end Inter's barren run is clear, Conte conceded there is one job away from club football which still entices him.

Conte managed Italy from 2014 to 2016 before leaving the role to join Chelsea, who he led to the Premier League title in 2017, and the 51-year-old is open to an Azzurri return should the possibility arise.

"Absolutely no, it gives me goosebumps to think about the national team," Conte replied when asked if his time with Italy was over for good.

"My door will always be open to Italy."

Lautaro Martinez has confirmed he previously held talks with Barcelona but reaffirmed his desire to now sign a new contract with Inter.

The Argentina striker was heavily linked with a big-money move to Camp Nou prior to the 2020-21 season after starring in Serie A with the Nerazzurri.

Martinez admits he was in discussions with Los Cules; however, a move failed to materialise and with Barca's financial woes becoming a huge discussion point in European football the chances of them imminently renewing their interest looks slim.

Instead, Martinez is focused on committing his future to Serie A leaders Inter, where he has a deal that runs until 2023 with Antonio Conte's side.

Speaking to La Gazzetta dello Sport, he said: "It's true, I was in negotiations with Barcelona. I was clear with Conte, I told him: 'I think about Inter only, this is not going to affect me.'

"However, it all belongs to the past, I am going to sign a contract extension with Inter. I don't know when there will be an official announcement. Meanwhile I play. My future is here, I see myself in Milan for a long time.

"I like everything about this city. The food, the fans, the team. I only have positive feelings."

Since making his debut in August 2018, Martinez has scored 33 Serie A goals – which ranks 10th in the league in that time.

He has a modest shot-conversion rate of 12.55 per cent, has registered 95 shots on target and has a big-chance conversion of 36.36 per cent.

Additionally, Martinez has nine assists, and has created 79 chances for team-mates – 15 of which are defined as 'big chances' by Opta.

This season alone, he has netted 13 in 23 top-flight appearances – just one fewer than he managed in the whole of last season – to help fire Inter to the top of the table.

Conte's side are four points clear of rivals Milan having triumphed 3-0 in last week's derby, while defending champions Juventus are eight points back.

Martinez was reluctant to label Inter as "favourites" for the title but says the team's success is due to the atmosphere created by Conte.

"Favourites is a word I don't like. But we are on top of the table and this gives us positive feelings. I've never experienced having such a gap from the second-placed [team]," he added.

"It's not a coincidence. It's the result of the work we do with our coach. As he likes to say: 'We are working to leave Inter as high as possible.'

"We are a diverse team with Conte, more united, everyone fights for the others, we help each other and it's a good sign."

Since losing the first derby of the season back in October, Inter have been beaten just once in 19 Serie A matches.

Pressure had been building on Conte after a start that saw Inter win just three of their opening seven league games, while they were also knocked out of the Champions League.

Martinez pinpointed their European failure as the moment that turned Inter's season around.

"Simple, we were eliminated from the Champions League. It hurt so much and we told each other that our target should have been the Serie A title," Martinez said.

"Conte told us to take care of every little detail, on and off the pitch. That's how you win.

"That's what we tell each other in the dressing room, every day. That's how you win. We only play to win."

LeBron James has vowed never to "just stick to sports" after footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic said he did not support the NBA star getting involved with politics. 

Los Angeles Lakers superstar James has been a powerful voice against racism and police brutality, among a host of social issues, in the United States. 

James is a friend of former United States president Barack Obama and his own foundation supports a school that is aimed at helping disadvantaged children. 

Milan striker Ibrahimovic told Discovery+ Sport in Sweden: "He's phenomenal what he's doing, but I don't like when people, when they have some kind of status and they do politics at the same time as what they're doing. 

"Do what you’re good at, do the category you do. I play football because I'm the best in playing football, I don't do politics. 

"If I would be a political politician, I would do politics. That is the first mistake people do when they become famous and they come in a certain status. 

"Stay out of it, just do what you're best at, because it doesn't look good." 

That outburst was shot down by NBA star James, who said it was important to use his platform to shine a light on inequalities and injustice. 

"At the end of the day, I would never shut up about things," James said. 

"That's wrong. I appreciate about my people and I appreciate about equality, social injustice, racism, systematic voting, voter suppression, things that go in our community, because I was a part of my community at one point and seeing things what's going on. 

"I see what's going on still because I have a group of 300-plus kids at my school that's going through the same thing and they need a voice and I'm their voice. 

"I use my platform to continue to shed light on everything that may be going on, not only in my community but around this country and around the world. There's no way I will ever just stick to sports because I understand this platform and how powerful my voice is." 

James pointed to the time when Ibrahimovic complained of being racially discriminated against in his native Sweden three years ago, because he did not have a traditionally Swedish name.

At the time, Ibrahimovic spoke of "undercover racism" in the Swedish media.

James, therefore, expressed surprise at why Ibrahimovic would make his latest claims.

"I speak from a very educated mind," James said, "so I'm kind of the wrong guy to actually go at, because I do my homework."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is relishing the return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Old Trafford after being blown away by the late-career rejuvenation of the Swedish great.

Manchester United and Milan were drawn together in the Europa League last 16 on Friday, giving the second-tier competition a glamour tie.

A serious knee ligament injury sustained in April 2017, near the end of his first season with Manchester United, raised doubts about whether Ibrahimovic would play at the highest level again. He got fit enough to make a first-team return before heading off to LA Galaxy, seemingly to wind down his career in the United States.

Yet Ibrahimovic was not finished with European football and in December 2019 embarked on a second spell with Milan, which has surpassed the most generous of expectations.

Ibrahimovic has scored 27 goals in 40 games so far for the Rossoneri, including 16 in 20 appearances this season to help Milan mount a title challenge. In doing so, the 39-year-old has passed the 500-goal mark in his club career.

Milan's lead in the Scudetto race was reined in by Inter, who now lead the way in Serie A, but Ibrahimovic's impact has been seismic in Italy.

United loanee Diogo Dalot, who has played 19 games for Milan this season, may also be heading back to Manchester for the March 11 first leg as he is eligible for the tie.

"Zlatan, of course, I've been so impressed, I've got to say, by how his career has gone," United manager Solskjaer told the club's official website.

"He had a career-threatening injury when he was here but came back from that and went to MLS, then came back to Milan and has really lifted them. They're on the up and have done really well this season.

"I've been so impressed by him, and Diogo we know. He went there to get some experience at a big club and he's learned a lot. He's played a lot more games this season, kept fit and, hopefully, we can give him some bother!"

Ibrahimovic hit 28 goals in 46 games in his first season at United, adding one more strike in seven games in the following season as he fought his way back to full fitness.

His United goals came at a rate of one every 139.1 minutes, compared to his stunning Milan average strike rate of 109.9 minutes per goal.

He has also boosted his big chance conversion rate from 35.7 per cent at United to 45 per cent with Milan.

Solskjaer, whose side face Chelsea in the Premier League this Sunday, may have wished for a kinder European draw, particularly as it came on the Norwegian's 48th birthday.

"It's a nice birthday gift, isn't it? To watch that draw!" he said. "We do have the tradition of making it hard for ourselves in draws.

"It's one of the those draws again that you feel could be a Champions League game. It's good for us to have these games to look forward to. This team needs challenges and we enjoy challenges and we embrace them.

"The tradition and history of AC Milan, it's a great club that we welcome and it's a great stadium that we go to there, and we're looking forward to it."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.