Superstar Zlatan prepares for Euro swansong

Paris (AFP) – Zlatan Ibrahimovic has one of the hottest shots in football and he is not at all modest about it.

“One thing is for sure, a World Cup without me is nothing to watch,” said the Swedish superstar after his country failed to qualify for Brazil 2014. So it is just as well he has made it to Euro 2016. 

Ibrahimovic scored three goals in the two-leg playoff against Denmark that Sweden won 4-3 on aggregate to reach France. 

The 34-year-old, who will leave Paris Saint-Germain this summer, makes the difference for an otherwise mediocre Sweden team. 

“It’s a challenge — a world class player and good players, but not as good as him — to get a good team,” said Sweden coach Erik Hamren.

Ibrahimovic is not just Sweden’s captain and best player now, he is possibly the country’s greatest ever, their all-time record goal-scorer with 62 and a record 10-time winner of the national Guldbollen award for player of the year.

Born in a difficult neighbourhood of Malmo to a Bosnian father and Croatian mother, Ibrahimovic has enjoyed a glittering career.

He has just won his 11th league title, a fourth straight French championship with PSG following two titles at Ajax, three at Inter Milan, one at Barcelona and one at AC Milan.

There were also two with Juventus that were revoked because of the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal while the biggest gap in his CV is his lack of success in the Champions League.

At international level he does not represent one of the major powers, and with his 35th birthday approaching, this may be his last chance at a major tournament.

A player who stands 6ft 4ins tall (1.95m) and has a black belt in taekwondo has scored some of the most eye-catching international goals, from his back-heel against Italy at Euro 2004 to his breathtaking overhead kick from 35 yards against England in 2012.

But international honours have not followed. ‘Ibra’ has featured at just one World Cup, in 2006, and has not gone beyond the quarter-finals of the European Championship, a competition in which he has scored six times spread over the 2004, 2008 and 2012 finals.

However, after once briefly quitting the international scene, he has flourished under Hamren.

The coach’s ability to get along with Ibrahimovic contrasts with Pep Guardiola, with whom the striker famously endured a difficult relationship at Barcelona.

Ibrahimovic has said that he once told Guardiola to “go to hell” and blamed him for a disappointing stint at the Camp Nou.

“When you buy me, you are buying a Ferrari,” he said. “If you drive a Ferrari you put premium fuel in the tank, you drive onto the motorway and you floor the accelerator. 

“Guardiola filled up with diesel and went for a spin in the countryside. If that’s what he wanted, he should have bought himself a Fiat from the start.”

– Adopted home –

The Euros will be particularly special for Ibrahimovic as they take place in the country that has become his adopted home in four years with PSG.

He is a superstar in France, and has his own puppet on the cult satirical programme Les Guignols, but he has never mastered the language and has an uneasy relationship with the French media.

Some who have spent time in his company talk of an intelligent person who despises losing, and whose demanding nature has been the biggest factor in transforming PSG. He has suggested the club did not even exist before his arrival in 2012.

Ibrahimovic once refused a trial at Arsenal as a teenager, later explaining himself by saying “Zlatan doesn’t do auditions”.

He has never made it to the English game, but that could still change. His PSG deal — worth a reported 20 million euros ($22.7m) a year — expires in June and he has confirmed that he will be leaving for a new challenge elsewhere.

He has enjoyed a superb season with PSG, breaking the 40-goal barrier, and recently joked that he would stay if the Eiffel Tower were replaced with a statue of him.

For now, though, his French swansong will come in the colours of Sweden.

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