Giroud’s ‘Gladiator’-like goals help Milan win Italian title

MILAN (AP) — After Zlatan Ibrahimović acted like the protagonist from the movie “Braveheart” in a rousing speech to his teammates, Olivier Giroud likened his own exploits on the field to another blockbuster — “Gladiator.”

The Hollywood double feature spurred AC Milan to its first Serie A title in 11 years.

“He compared himself to ‘Braveheart?’” Giroud said with a laugh in an interview with The Associated Press. “Well I’m a Christian, a strong Christian … so maybe I’d be a gladiator, that’s my favorite movie.”

Giroud was signed partly as a backup to Ibrahimović. But with the 40-year-old Swede spending large portions of the season sidelined with injury, Giroud found himself a regular in the team.

And the Frenchman delivered, especially in the crucial matches.

Giroud scored two goals at Sassuolo on Sunday as Milan clinched the title, right after Ibrahimović played his part — despite only coming on for the final 18 minutes — by delivering a speech inspired by Mel Gibson’s character in “Braveheart.”

Milan needed only one point in the final match of the season on Sunday to be assured of beating defending champion Inter Milan. And the 35-year-old Giroud’s expression when he scored the opening goal — with a broad, beaming smile as he ran to celebrate with his teammates — could well become the symbol of the team’s scudetto win.

“You know what? You have to live it to understand it,” Giroud said. “I was talking with my brother on the phone and I told him, ‘Look, wow, that’s why I want to play football until my legs will not allow me anymore, because I would never feel the same feeling in the life.’ And I think that thing, that adrenaline, is kind of a drug for a sportsman and, well, I, I love it. I loved it.

“I felt like an amazing feeling inside me and also a (relief) because I didn’t score many goals this last games, but it was the night to do it, you know? And I was at the right place at the right time and Rafa (Rafael Leão) give me a nice assist and, and I’ve finished the job.”

The two goals in Milan’s 3-0 victory took Giroud’s tally to 11 in the league and 14 in all competitions, a somewhat slim return for a striker. But the timing of those goals made them all the more important.

There were two against Inter, which seemingly was heading for a vital win that would have sent it seven points clear at the top of the standings. Giroud’s goals gave Milan the victory and the three points that allowed the team to keep in touch at the top.

Giroud also scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory at Napoli, which at the time was also a serious title contender.

Throughout his career, Giroud has earned a reputation for coming up with the goods in important moments. His crucial goals late in the 2019-20 season spurred Chelsea to qualify for the Champions League, and his six goals in the competition helped the London club win the European title for the second time.

Giroud is also France’s second-highest scorer with 48 goals, three fewer than former Arsenal great Thierry Henry, and helped Les Bleus win the World Cup in 2018.

“I think it’s easy to find the motivation in this kind of game,” Giroud said. “The match in Sassuolo was kind of another last final for us, the last dance, if I can say.

“But yeah, this season was amazing and obviously as a striker, you always want to score as many goals as possible, but the most important is to be there when the team really, really needs you. And in this kind of game where you have to win, it’s important to make the difference.”

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