Zlatan Ibrahimović hints at World Cup return for Sweden and a nation shrugs its shoulders

“The door isn’t closed for anything,” the 36-year-old striker told the Swedish media this week, ahead of the Russian World Cup

Luke Brown
Friday 02 March 2018 13:32 GMT
Surprise, surprise: international retirement isn't suiting Zlatan Ibrahimović
Surprise, surprise: international retirement isn't suiting Zlatan Ibrahimović (Getty Images)

In November, a Swedish research consultancy ran a survey which made headlines around the world.

The question: should Zlatan Ibrahimović return to the international team ahead of the 2018 World Cup? The answer: a firm no. Ibrahimović may be widely regarded as the greatest Swedish footballer in history, but 63% of the respondents were of the opinion that the injury-plagued 36-year-old would do well to stay away.

Not that Ibrahimović cares about such trivialities, mind you. And barely three months after the Swedish public had their say, he has begun drumming up support for an unlikely return to the fold.

Ibrahimovic retired from international football after Euro 2016 (Getty)

“The door isn’t closed for anything,” he this week insisted to the media, no doubt with his face contorted into a smirk the size of his ego. Even for a man given to talking in the third person and comparing himself to God, it is a bold move.

Unsurprisingly, the ageing superstar has found it hard to watch his former team-mates from the confines of his living room. Without him, Sweden came second to France in World Cup qualifying Group A, edging the Netherlands on goal difference, and then beating Italy in a playoff to reach the finals.

That impressive win against the four-time world champions has raised confidence of a performance to be proud of this summer this summer, and has perhaps even reinforced the opinion that Ibrahimović is better off remaining retired. But surprise, surprise – that message hasn’t filtered through.

Sweden beat Italy to reach this summer's World Cup finals (Getty)

“I miss the national team,” Ibrahimović pined at – wait for it – the opening of his new paddle tennis centre in Stockholm. “When you've played in the national team for 20 years and then you're not in it anymore, and you see the others playing in the national team, it's tough.

“It's tough in general, when you think that I'm injured and not playing. I want to play, with the club team, with the national team, it's the same thing. They (the Swedish national team) have done a good job.”

That is Ibrahimović’s biggest problem: that the national team have been playing perfectly well without him. Factor in his well-documented struggles with injuries this season – he has appeared in just five Premier League matches this season, without scoring a single goal – and the chances of a fairy-tale return seem increasingly bleak.

For all his bluster, Ibrahimović knows this better than anyone.

The striker has struggled with injuries this season (Getty)

“I don't think anyone needs to call me,” he made sure to add. “If I want to, I'm there, that's how it is. But one thing at a time. When I can do what I want to, I'll have other thoughts.

“So it is a tough question. I want to feel that I can perform and give back. I don't want to come just because I'm somebody. But the door isn't closed for anything.”

One suspects it will not be completely closed until Ibrahimović hangs up his boots for good, which could be at the end of the current campaign, or even after one final swansong in the MLS. Until then, his comically inflated ego – which his entire brand depends on – will ensure talk of a comeback keeps its place in the headlines, defiantly regardless of how much sense that makes.

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