In­ter­na­tional re­turn for Zlatan gets Swe­den talk­ing

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FOOTBALL -

STOCK­HOLM: The fi­nal whis­tle which sig­naled that Swe­den had qual­i­fied for the Rus­sia 2018 World Cup was still echo­ing around the San Siro when the spec­u­la­tion be­gan: Will re­tired record star goalscorer Zlatan Ibrahi­movic re­turn for the fi­nals in Rus­sia?

Swe­den had just se­cured a 1-0 ag­gre­gate vic­tory over Italy with a squad short on big names, a team that snatched sec­ond place in Euro­pean qual­i­fy­ing Group A from the Dutch and beaten France at home be­fore knock­ing out Italy, all with­out Zlatan.

“This is in­cred­i­ble. The player has just stopped to play one-and-a-half years ago and we are still here talk­ing about him,” Swe­den boss An­der­s­son told re­porters when asked if Ibrahi­movic was set to re­turn.

The 36-year-old de­parted the na­tional team af­ter a dis­ap­point­ing group stage exit at Euro 2016, end­ing an in­ter­na­tional ca­reer that saw him score 62 goals, in 116 matches for his coun­try.

Shortly af­ter the game Zlatan posted a pic­ture on so­cial me­dia with the cap­tion “We are Zwe­den”.

By Tues­day, it had over a mil­lion likes on In­sta­gram, but An­der­s­son didn’t seem en­tirely pos­i­tive about a pos­si­ble re­turn.

“Zlatan is, as I ex­pressed it, our great­est player of all time, a fan­tas­tic ath­lete in ev­ery way, but he has cho­sen not to take part,” he told a news con­fer­ence in Mi­lan Tues­day.

“These guys who did take part and have per­formed fan­tas­ti­cally. It’s sad to sit and talk about some­one who hasn’t been here. I have a gang that has done fan­tas­tic, we can talk about them in­stead.”

The Manch­ester United striker, who is cur­rently re­cov­er­ing from a knee in­jury, has al­ways been some­thing of a di­vi­sive fig­ure in his na­tive coun­try, adored for his skills but of­ten per­ceived as ar­ro­gant and self­ish.

Af­ter his de­par­ture and that of for­mer man­ager Erik Ham­ren, the Swedes went back to their tra­di­tional style of be­ing a tightly-knit col­lec­tive where no in­di­vid­ual is more im­por­tant than the team.

A re­turn for Zlatan now could up­set that del­i­cate bal­ance.

An­der­s­son’s play­ers were not in the mood to dis­cuss a pos­si­ble re­turn ei­ther.

“First and fore­most he must open up the pos­si­bil­ity him­self. Oth­er­wise I don’t think one should have this dis­cus­sion,” de­fender Lud­wig Au­gustins­son said af­ter the match against Italy.

Ibrahi­movic’s agent Mino Raiola was a lot more pos­i­tive to­wards a come­back for his client.

“If it’s up to me, I’ll de­liver him my­self,” he told Swe­den’s SportEx­pressen. –

Ibrahi­movic is seen as a di­vi­sive fig­ure in Swe­den.

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