Zlatan Ibrahimovic eyes Sweden return ahead of World Cup
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is eyeing a chance to play at another World Cup, even though the coach of Sweden’s national team was convinced that the veteran striker had no desire to return.
The 36-year-old Ibrahimovic retired from international soccer after the 2016 European Championship to focus on prolonging his club career. Despite not playing for Manchester United since December because of knee injury, Sweden’s all-time record scorer said there is a chance he could make a comeback.
“The door hasn’t been shut to anything, really,” Ibrahimovic said Thursday on the sidelines of a tennis event in Stockholm.
That, however, is at odds with what Sweden coach Janne Andersson said Wednesday.
“He said, ‘No’ to me last summer and for me I respect that,” Andersson told The Associated Press at a World Cup workshop in Sochi, Russia. “I respect his decision.”
Asked if plans could change if there were injuries in the Sweden squad, Andersson said: “The reality is he said, ‘No.’”
Ibrahimovic, who scored 62 goals in 116 games for Sweden, played at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups but missed out on the last two editions after the team failed to qualify.
Sweden qualified for this year’s World Cup in Russia by beating Italy in a playoff. The team will play South Korea, Germany and Mexico in the group stage in June.
“I want to play, with the club team, with the national team ... to me, it’s the same,” Ibrahimovic said, adding the Swedish players “have done a good job.”
“Watching the others playing in the national team,” Ibrahimovic said, “it’s tough.”
Swedish soccer federation secretary general Hakan Sjostrand said Ibrahimovic’s return is a matter between the player and Andersson, but added that it could be beneficial for the national team.
“I think that a fresh and motivated Zlatan will add something at all levels,” Sjostrand told the Aftonbladet newspaper.
Even if Ibrahimovic goes to the World Cup, he might be looking for a new club.
“For Zlatan we all think it’s his last season at Manchester United,” United manager Jose Mourinho said Friday. “It will be a very personal decision for him to play or to stop.”
Ibrahimovic has been restricted to two starts in seven appearances this season for United, which initially released him in the off-season because of a right knee injury.
“This season has been really difficult for him,” Mourinho said. “Is he injured? No, he’s not injured. Does he feel totally happy, totally ready and totally convinced that he’s in a condition to help the team? In this moment, no, but he’s such an honest guy and such a champion.
“He only wants to be back with that feeling of ‘I’m totally ready for it.’ So he’s working hard and hopefully his evolution brings him to that level where he wants to have a positive answer.”
AP World Cup coverage: www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup