Why Zlatan might be auditioning for England – and maybe even Chelsea
The nature of Zlatan Ibrahimovic's personality means it can be very difficult to determine the difference between mythology and truth when it comes to the PSG striker. Even his infamous autobiography, I Am Zlatan, contained quotes that were more fiction than fact according to ghostwriter David Lagercrantz.
Laurent Blanc's side are unbeaten domestically and have only really been tested to the maximum in Europe this term
Ibrahimovic naturally incurs controversy with his comments off the pitch, while his performances on it ensure that he's never far away from the headlines. The Swede has scored 21 goals in 19 Ligue 1 starts in 2015/16, but even by his own admission the competition in France isn't particularly strong at present.
With PSG currently 24 points ahead of second-placed Monaco, it's easy to see why he’s arrived at that conclusion.
Laurent Blanc's side are unbeaten domestically and have only really been tested to the maximum in Europe this term. “We have a quality squad and no matter who is on the pitch, the quality remains the same,” Ibrahimovic told the club's official website recently, neatly summarising the strength in depth that means they are far too strong for their rivals in France.
The goalless draw against Lille without either Ibrahimovic or Thiago Silva at the weekend was an anomaly, and it's perhaps only natural that PSG’s focus has begun to shift towards Tuesday’s Champions League last 16 clash with Chelsea – the true mark of success for Blanc.
Ibrahimovic, despite his increasing years, remains the club's talisman and will be as important as ever if Blanc’s side are to progress past the Blues again. Incredibly they managed to without him last season, when the Swede's 31st-minute second-leg red card didn't stop the French side netting twice either side of extra-time to shock the hosts.
China is another possibility after Super League clubs demonstrated their financial clout with the recent purchases of Ramires, Alex Teixeira and Jackson Martinez
Whatever happens for the remainder of the season, it will be interesting to see where Ibrahimovic finds himself when the 2016/17 campaign kicks off. The 34-year-old's contract expires this summer and his future is still undecided, though the Malmo-born attacker will inevitably have plenty of options.
MLS seems an obvious fit, with Ibrahimovic applying for a long-term visa for the USA last July. David Beckham has spoken about taking him to his new franchise in Miami, although that remains a couple of years away from completion.
China is another possibility after Super League clubs demonstrated their financial clout with the recent purchases of Ramires, Alex Teixeira and Jackson Martinez. “It would be fantastic for football in China if a player like Zlatan comes here,” said former England coach, fellow countryman and current Shanghai SIPG manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.
Agent Mino Raiola has suggested a number of possible destinations are open to his client, with Qatar and a return to Italy among those touted. Perhaps the most intriguing of all, however, would be a year or two in England.
It's difficult now because for the first time in his life he wants to be a free agent so that he can look around and have a feeling day by day what he wants to do
“I would like to see him in the Premier League,” Raiola told Sky Sports in January. “I think it's a game that is made for him with his strength, his ability, his technique, the stadiums with fantastic atmosphere and how football is lived.
“It's difficult now because for the first time in his life he wants to be a free agent so that he can look around and have a feeling day by day what he wants to do.”
Any regular viewer of the 6ft 5in striker will know he’s the model of consistency, but the upcoming two-legged European encounter is something of an audition for Ibrahimovic, who has the chance to prove he can still play at the highest level against a team with the physical characteristics and skill of Chelsea.
Some English supporters remain sceptical, despite his extraordinary scoring ratio and medal haul. His sensational overhead kick against England in 2012 – along with three other goals on the night – only really halted the criticism temporarily. It was only a friendly, wasn't it?
The 34-year-old has an opportunity to prove to potential suitors that he can still perform on the biggest stage of all
Ibrahimovic has still scored only three goals in 18 games against English clubs – all of which came against Arsenal, incidentally – and he’s still yet to get his hands on Europe’s top prize despite domestic success in the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and France. “I have yet to win the Champions League and that is one of my goals,” he admitted in December.
It remains to be seen whether he will finally fulfil that objective this year, although it's worth noting that Bayern Munich and others have often struggled to raise the intensity in the latter stages of the Champions League after cruising back home for so long.
PSG have a number of players with something to prove, however: Angel Di Maria, back firing again, will be keen to prove his worth on the biggest stage after an unsuccessful stint at Manchester United, while experienced centre-back Thiago Silva has been frozen out of Dunga’s Brazil squad since the Copa America last year.
For Ibrahimovic, the motivation is different – the 34-year-old has an opportunity to prove to potential suitors that he can still perform at the highest level, and opponents Chelsea are perhaps the best fit for the Swede next season.
Roman Abramovich can afford his wages, for a start, and the champions’ frontline is in need of strengthening
In terms of potential English destinations, Pep Guardiola’s arrival at Manchester City rules them out immediately, while Arsenal and Liverpool’s style of football means they are better suited to younger, more dynamic frontmen.
Ibrahimovic and Jose Mourinho could be reunited at Old Trafford if the latter takes the Manchester United job in the summer, although Anthony Martial is likely to be made the priority after his big-money move last summer.
At Chelsea, though, there are fewer obstacles. Roman Abramovich can afford his wages for a start, and the champions’ frontline is in desperate need of strengthening.
The Blues are fairly strict when offering deals to older players, and Ibrahimovic would unlikely be granted anything more than a one-year contract, though that may also appeal to the striker who would know there is freedom to escape should things not go to plan.
While his assertion that “I had a lot of babies around me” after being shown red against the Blues last season may not go down too well in the dressing room, it's probable that a fair chunk of the 2014/15 squad will no longer be present at Stamford Bridge by the time next season rolls around.
“Exciting, isn’t it? What will happen?” he teased on Monday. “Let’s see what the future has in store for me; day by day, big things will happen.”
As Beckham, a former team-mate of Ibrahimovic at PSG, eloquently puts it: “Who doesn’t want a man who’s prepared to kill to win?”
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