Last summer it got to a point where Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s love affair with Paris Saint-Germain could have come to an end. An old flame in AC Milan flirted relentlessly with the big Swede to try and entice him back to Italy. The man has deep roots not only in the city of Milan where he also played for Internazionale but the country as a whole having joined Juventus back in 2005. In essence he has spent the vast majority of his professional career in Serie A so there is no doubt he’d have been tempted somewhat. Nevertheless, he remained in Paris and how thankful we are in what could turn out to be the most incredible season of our 46-year history.
So, why would he have left last summer? Well, despite netting 30-goals during 2014/15, he didn’t seem to be the same player. This was not anything to do with his attitude, far from it! Zlatan is one of the most dedicated single-minded individuals – if not ever – to adorn the Parisian shirt. His body language can be deceiving at times but who is it that steps up to the mantle and bails us out when we need it? The big man!
He has won games singlehandedly at times; big games as well. There have been many times during his four years at the club where the team has played way below par but he has netted the solitary winner or played a part in it. That’s how Ibra works. Believe what you want in the press about his ego – which is huge, no doubt (he admits it) – but he is a winner and will strive to ensure that every single time. Yet, age is the enemy to any professional athlete. And there was a point last season where it looked as if Ibra may be in a fight he could not win.
This is in relation to the injuries he picked up. They were regular and it all started with an abdominal strain he picked up in September 2015 whilst on international duty. Then more seriously, a heel injury which ruled him out for seven weeks from September onwards. The PSG doctor Eric Rolland would come out and say that the injury would hinder the big man for the rest of the season. Rolland said at the time to RMC; “He still has pain in his heel. It’s pain that can change in intensity. Recently, it hasn’t gotten worse but it will be present until the end of the season. Zlatan will not play every game. He just wanted to look after himself ahead of the trip to Barcelona (December 2014).”
The number 10 would return in a 2-0 win over Marseille, receiving a rapturous reception from the Parc des Princes. At the time, Lucas Moura and Javier Pastore were very much the talismen for the champions during his absence. Pastore would continue to be the main man that season, no question.
There was also strong debate that Ibra was actually hindering the team. Yes, it sounds incredible to think that was ever contemplated after what he has done this season – and before – for this football club but things were not so smooth in the early days of that incredible quadruple winning season. Edinson Cavani was flourishing by himself in Ibra’s absence and when he came back, it seemed as if our general play staggered. It is easy of course to cast blame but it seemed to be no coincidence. Ibra likes to hold the ball up where as our counter attacking was a lot more predominant with him out the team.
There were many times where we were more free flowing in attack without the Swede. Looking back though, the team rested on their laurels far too many times up until the spring where we finally clicked into a formidable machine. This came at the right time, thanks to a defeat away to Bastia, which gave us a reality check in early 2015. Even the skipper Thiago Silva recently admitted that the attitude from the players was not the best in terms of taking domestic games seriously, unlike this season where we are still undefeated.
Ibrahimovic would still end up with 19-league goals, the club’s top scorer and was voted in the Ligue 1 team of the year, which did raise an eyebrow or two.
The key factor was that in the end he wanted to remain with Paris Saint-Germain whilst breaking Pauleta’s goal scoring record and at least have one more season before seeking pastures new. He is now the club’s all time record goal holder, in the form of his life at the age of 34, the league’s top scorer and as integral as he has ever been to Les Parisiens. It is 30 goals in all competitions already; equalling the tally of last season.
Out of contract in the summer, he is keeping his options open. England is being talked about as a prime destination, a country he has never played in. The MLS in the USA is where he will more than likely end up at some point. Judging by his form, he should at least stay in Europe for one more season. Can that be at PSG? Absolutely. This was supposed to be his swansong season, especially after the emotional clashes with Malmo in the Champions League. Ibra himself was talking as if he would be heading off into the sunset; from Europe at least.
The fact of the matter is Zlatan is just as important now to PSG as he was when he first came through the door. Those legs are not getting any younger yet he is still influential. The form this season has been off the scale. There he was last week with a vital goal in the 2-1 win at home to Chelsea in a huge last-16 European game. I am sure the PSG support will forgive him for the slack defending for the equaliser. But, in all seriousness, we are not the same force without him and with Cavani falling out of favour, despite a mini revival as of late, can we really afford to let him depart this summer? I don’t think so.
Nasser Al-Khelaifi I am sure will do everything he can to convince him to stay. Ibra may be toying with the idea of a move to England but knowing him, it may just be a ploy for the club to add an extra zero on a brand new contract.
He is priceless after all!