Zlatan Ibrahimovic was never one to mince words or at least words that gave him any sense of modesty. In fact, his lack of modesty was just as famous as his outrageous goals, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic ended his Paris Saint-Germain career with a typically brash message.
After scoring twice in his final PSG game, a 4-2 win against Marseille in Saturday’s French Cup final, he said: “I came, I saw, I conquered.”
Not quite true.
Despite his spectacular scoring — 156 goals in 180 games, including a career-high 38 in the league and 50 overall this season — Ibrahimovic was not the talisman PSG needed in the Champions League.
In his four seasons at the club, PSG never got beyond the quarterfinals, underlining the paradox between his league brilliance and inconsistency in Europe.
In the quarterfinal return leg against Manchester City last month, he had a poor game. Ibrahimovic, who missed a penalty in the first leg, trudged around rather than chasing back whenever he lost the ball, cutting a despondent figure as the club’s European hopes vanished. The image of him skulking around offered another insight: that when the chips were down, he did not always respond in a positive manner.
After that game, he directly questioned coach Laurent Blanc’s tactics which, although a valid point, attempted to deflect from his own mediocre performance.
The brazenly outspoken Ibrahimovic loved the spotlight and courted controversy, telling the club’s directors he would stay only if they replaced the Eiffel Tower with a statue of him.
He was not always witty, though, and he irked the club’s former players when he said — prior to the City game — that PSG only started to exist when Qatari investors, QSI, took over in 2011. Ibrahimovic joined the following year.
In March 2015, he was sternly criticized for an expletive-laced rant about the standard of referees in the French league. His comments were caught by a TV camera and, although Ibrahimovic apologized, he saw it as an intrusion by the French media, and his relations remained tense with them.
This was evident again when, after Saturday’s game, he was asked by a television reporter to say a farewell in French, but instead replied in English.
“I didn’t speak French, and still I won everything,” he said.
Aside from the Champions League, this is overwhelmingly true because he helped the cash-rich club win four straight titles and back-to-back domestic trebles — unprecedented in French football.
He is easily PSG’s all-time top scorer, way ahead of next-best Pauleta’s 109 and is the fifth-highest scorer in the French league with 113 goals. His ratio of 0.93 goals per game is the best ever in the French league.
“He was a vital part of the PSG project. Not only on the pitch, but also in terms of his charisma,” said Blanc, who arrived at the same time as Ibrahimovic. “I’ve rarely seen a competitor like him.”
Blanc and the PSG fans indulged him totally — Blanc would sometimes let him go back to Sweden to go hunting — because he turned Parc des Princes stadium into his own theater stage.
In one game against Bastia, he scored a quite extraordinary goal, a mixture of brilliant timing, exquisite improvisation and martial arts elasticity as he flick-volleyed a ball from behind his head with the outside of his foot — sending it into the net at astonishing speed.
He credited the move to years of perfecting Taekwondo — he is a black belt — and even at the advanced age of 34 his physical prowess remains impressive.
Ibrahimovic won’t be short of offers, with FA Cup winner Manchester United and Major League Soccer teams reportedly keen.
Blanc faces a difficult task in replacing him, and the summer transfer market promises to be intensely competitive.
With Barcelona star Neymar seemingly out of reach, a more realistic option would be a player in their mid-late 20s with plenty of years left.
That list might include: Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann (25), Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski (27), Chelsea forward Eden Hazard (25) or City striker Sergio Aguero (27).
“A page is being turned,” Blanc said. “The club must continue to advance.”
A lot rests on Blanc’s choice, because whoever he signs must both fill the void left by Ibrahimovic’s departure and improve the club’s European fortunes.