A colleague of mine recently told me about a deeply romantic chat-up line Zlatan Ibrahimovic employed in Italy when he played there in his younger years. “Do you want to see him?” he used to ask the girls. Allegedly. Whether that story is true or not is hard to say, but it’s not really relevant. Ibra’s autobiography itself was classified as “a literary illusion” by his ghostwriter David Lagercrantz; almost all of the quotes were made up. Truth and fiction have become impossible to separate when it comes to the Swede, and he seems to like it that way. The 34-year-old has created a whole artificial persona off the pitch to cater for his Empire State-sized ego with a degree of irony these days.
“I will only stay at Paris Saint-Germain if they replace the Eiffel tower with a statue of me,” he said last month, in reference to talks about the extension of his contract beyond this summer. It sounded like the announcement of his departure - not even he could think that the French capital would accommodate that wish. A few days later, Italian paper La Republicca (conveniently, some might say) carried a piece about an offer from China worth €75m per year, while English media outlets breathlessly reported that Manchester United and Arsenal were weighing up bids. “Yes, there is interest from the Premier League, I can confirm that,” Ibrahimovic said surprisingly candidly, “the Premier League is the league in the world all people and fans speak about. But it’s like a marriage. Two parties have to want it, not just one or the other. Each side needs to want it as much as the other. When the moment comes, when all the cards are on the table, that’s when I have to go through what I want and then we’ll see who wants it more.”
It might take a while until all the cards are on the table, however. The handful of English clubs who might seriously consider signing him won’t or can’t commit this early to the prolific egomaniac with the man bun. West Ham United owner David Sullivan did, for example, admit that he’d “love to” get Zlatan but will probably only be able to afford him if the Hammers were to qualify for the Champions League.
Chelsea, who will undergo restructuring under Antonio Conte, are currently not interested, as far Arsène Wenger’s concerned, the forward is too old and too expensive. Man Utd boss Edward Woodward will undoubtedly embark on his now traditional summer jaunt around Europe in another fruitless attempt to lure a superstar like Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo or Neymar to Old Trafford and will only contemplate plumping for the striker once the panic sets in at the end of August. In summary, there doesn’t seem to be any appealing Premier League offers available right now.
“Maybe I’ll stop playing this summer”, Ibra said on Swedish television recently. Maybe he’ll do that, maybe it’s only bluff designed to get the PSG owners back to the negotiation table. In Paris, many believe that the player would secretly love to stay another year for a salary of €20m, and continue to be the most dominant, all-conquering figure who’s so far ahead of his peers in Ligue 1 that the French have dedicated a new verb him: zlataner. Zlatan doesn’t just win (almost) every game, he regularly zlatanises his opponents with acrobatics and outrageous strikes.
If he can’t get a deal at the Parc des Princes, however, and if the Eiffel tower turns out to be immovable, fans of the English game must hope that somebody offers him a new home across the Channel. Zlatan would be a huge attraction with his theatricality on and off the pitch, and he’d surely score the odd goal, too. I, for one, am unashamed to say it openly: Yes. I want to see him. (In full kit, of course).