It was a characteristically self-assured move from Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Tweeting “We are Zweden” in the aftermath of Sweden’s qualification triumph over Italy is exactly the sort of self-promotion the legendary striker has built his reputation on.
While questions about Zlatan may not have gone down too well with Sweden manager Jan Andersson – “This is incredible,” he said after Sweden’s 0-0 draw with Italy, “This player has just stopped to play with Sweden one year and a half ago, and we are still here talking about him” – the fact they were being asked no doubt pleased the man himself. Like Antonio Banderas in The Mask of Zorro, Ibra had swashbuckled onto the scene and left his mark with an impudent ‘Z’.
Having retired from international duty in the aftermath of Euro 2016, Zlatan may well be tempted by the idea of returning to sign off at a World Cup. The pomp and ceremony of Russia 2018 would be a fitting end to his career, with the tournament having a unique allure for someone with a taste for the grandiose.
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While the idea of Zlatan adding the Jules Rimet to his burgeoning trophy cabinet might seem far-fetched to the rest of us, Ibra is hardly a man short of self-belief. He may still dream of the ultimate accolade and feel that Sweden owe him one last opportunity – especially given he’s their all-time top scorer and eleven-time Swedish Player of the Year.
But should Sweden allow Zlatan to return to the fold ahead of their World Cup odyssey? There are those who would argue that the team have become a more cohesive collective since Zlatan’s departure, no longer beholden to their superstar striker and instead focussed on being more than the sum of their parts.
That certainly seems to be Andersson’s view, and he ultimately has the final decision on whether Zlatan makes an international comeback.
“When Ibrahimovic was here with us we played a different style of football,” he said after qualification on Monday. “Considering that he has decided to leave international football – he is a great champion – but we had to adapt and found another style.”
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Then there is team harmony to consider and the message Zlatan’s return would send to his teammates.
While Sweden should have no problems accommodating his ego and imperious persona, replacing one of the men who helped them qualify with an ageing superstar would be a controversial move.
“We have many heroes tonight,” Andersen said after Sweden downed Italy, and one of those heroes would have to make way for Zlatan. Considering that this is a player who has spent the last seven months out with injury, Sweden might be best served by going on without their top-knotted idol of days gone by.