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Is Zlatan Ibrahimovic going to sue EA Sports? FIFA 21 likeness row continues

Zlatan Ibrahimovic
(Image credit: PA Images)

AC Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has never been one to shy from the spotlight - but now the Swede is questioning whether he should be on FIFA 21 and how EA Sports are profiting from his image.

Ibrahimovic took to Twitter to ask the question, tweeting, “Who gave FIFA EA Sport [sic] permission to use my name and face FifPro? I’m not aware of being a member of Fifpro and if I am I was put there without any real knowledge through some weird maneuver [sic]. 

“And for sure I never allowed FIFA or Fifpro to make money using me. Somebody is making profit on my name and face without any agreement all these years. Time to investigate.” 

His agent Mino Raiola later added, “Hope we get the answer to our letters now,” before Gareth Bale tweeted, “Interesting... what is @FIFPro? #TimeToInvestigate”.

Ibra's question has caused a lot of confusion - not least because he's 17 editions of the game late to asking how and why EA Sports have his image. Numerous replies to the veteran striker included images of him posing with Ultimate Team cards and mentioning in an interview he conducted while at Manchester United that he was “happy for the fans to get to play as me.”

Gareth Bale has even appeared on the cover of the game. So what's going on?

How do EA Sports use footballers' likenesses?

EA Sports obtains the license for players in different ways. The Premier League, for example, is bought as one package. Serie A teams - such as Zlatan's Milan - are bought individually. Icons - such as the recently acquired David Beckham - are separate and individual. 

So FIFA 21 has Gareth Bale because the Premier League is one package - AC Milan is another package, which explains Ibra. In fact, EA have a partnership deal with both Milan clubs which includes the use of AC Milan's kit, players and stadium. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been heavily used to publicise this deal. 

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The Federation Internationale des Associations de Footballeurs Professionnel - or FIFPro - is a global representative of professional football players. EA - and rival developer Konami, who produce PES - license the use of thousands of footballers' via FIFPro each year.

All quite a cut-and-dry situation so far. 

Why is Zlatan Ibrahimovic questioning his role in FIFA 21?

As is customary in football these days, it's not so much the players that are worried about the profit, seemingly, but their agents. 

“FifPro and AC Milan do not have players individual rights as I’m sure you know and as we’ve told you many times,” Raiola tweeted.

“At the moment, the players don’t get paid,” Gareth Bale's agent, Jonathan Barnett, told The Guardian. “Our big gripe is that FIFA are coming out with lots of rules and regulations saying that they are looking after the best interests of players but obviously they don’t.”

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It doesn't take an expert to see the common thread here, between recent additions to FIFA 21 and the recent tweets and comments from high-profile agents. In the past few weeks, David Beckham, boxer Anthony Joshua, Gareth Bale's parent club boss and arch-nemesis Zinedine Zidane and even popstar Dua Lipa have been added as playable characters in the game. 

It's more than possible that agents are wondering how much money this roster of stars got for their appearances in FIFA, while FIFPro simply sells off the footballers' rights for a fraction of the price. Agents have good reason not to like the union either, given that FIFPro seemingly fight against them and have even tried to do away with transfer fees altogether in the past.

EA don't seem to think so. 

“To be very clear, we have contractual rights to include the likeness of all players currently in our game,” EA said in a statement. 

“We are aware of discussions around licensing of players in EA Sports FIFA. The current situation being played out on social media is an attempt to draw FIFA 21 into a dispute between a number of third parties and has little to do with EA Sports.”

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It doesn't look like Ibra or Bale are getting dumped out of your FUT team any time soon, then. But from EA are saying, it seems like they think the row is more between FIFPro and agents than it is between agents and FIFA

This goes back to the idea that Raiola reckons he's getting short-changed from his client being sold as part of a team to the biggest football game on Earth, while Dua Lipa, for example, is probably getting more commission for being added. 

Raiola, though, staunchly claims that Ibrahimovic hasn't signed his image over to anyone - so maybe we'll see a legal challenge over that. 

What's the likely outcome of this feud?

In 2004, Oliver Kahn won a lawsuit against EA Sports after a court agreed that the goalkeeper's likeness had been used in FIFA World Cup 2002 without his approval. 

EA are a lot more careful these days to fully license every player that they feature. The likes of Bale and Ibrahimovic, as mentioned, as covered by their respective leagues and clubs' deals to feature in the game. Should their agents decide that they don't want them to feature in FIFA 22, however... that might change.

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It's unclear how but in theory, Raiola and Barnett could negotiate for their clients to be exempt from their clubs' deals with EA, instead prompting EA to talk straight to the agents of players themselves. It would be quite the shake-up and it remains to be seen how likely it is.

Perhaps Zlatan's just miffed that Dua Lipa's been given more pace than him. It'll be interesting to see if this one plays out further.

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