STOCKHOLM: He has an ego to match his towering physique but Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s pride must be smarting: he’s taking a massive paycut to play for LA Galaxy, and Sweden is showing no interest in his return to its 2018 World Cup squad.
Ibrahimovic, who on Friday (Saturday in Manila) became the latest in a long line of ageing stars to swap the heights of European football by leaving Manchester United for LA Galaxy, said earlier this month he missed playing for Sweden.
“I miss the national team,” the 36-year-old former captain said. He retired from Sweden duty after the Euro-2016.
Known for his swagger, he added confidently: “If I want, I do it. I want to feel that I can deliver a good performance.”
But Sweden coach Janne Andersson is clearly not chasing after the 6ft 4ins (1.95m) striker.
“It doesn’t change anything for me,” Andersson said as he announced Sweden’s squad for Saturday’s friendly against Chile — which did not include ‘Zlatan’, as he is simply known in Sweden.
“Zlatan is very welcome to call me,” Andersson said, hinting he would not take the initiative.
Andersson took over coaching duties in August 2016 — after Ibrahimovic’s departure. In 19 matches, he’s registered 11 wins, four losses and four draws.
The question of whether the country’s most prolific goal-scorer — 62 goals in 116 games — should return to the squad for the World Cup in Russia in June-July has divided the Scandinavian nation.
Some would love nothing more than to see him don the blue-and-yellow kit again.
But others argue he has no place on a squad that managed to qualify without him.
Sweden survived a tough qualifying group that included France and the Netherlands before beating Italy for the first time in six decades in a stunning play-off upset.
Football commentator Daniel Nannskog at Swedish public television SVT said he wasn’t sure the striker’s return would be a good thing.
While no one player exhibits Ibrahimovic’s star quality, the squad has evolved and is playing with more team spirit.
“The problematic bit is that we now have a national squad that is fighting for each other and has played a fantastic qualifying round,” Nannskog said.
Ibrahimovic has 31 winners’ medals in spells with Ajax, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United.
But his 2017 season and ultimately his United career was brought to a premature end by cruciate ligament damage suffered in April.
He never returned as a regular in the United side again, and on Friday, his arrival in Los Angeles was announced with a full-page advert in the LA Times reading simply: “Dear Los Angeles, You’re welcome.”
However, his salary will be limited to around $1.5 million (1.2 million euros), a fraction of the reported £19 million ($26.8 million, 21.8 million euros) a season he was paid by United.
As far back as 2016, Ibrahimovic said he “could see myself conquering the US, just as I have (conquered) Europe.”
Speaking to Swedish news agency TT on Friday, he said: “After playing in Europe … playing on the best teams in the world and with the best players in the world, I wanted to go to the US.”