Zlatan Ibrahimovic has dangled the very subtlest of hints that he’d been willing to come out of international retirement to play for Sweden at the upcoming World Cup.
Ibrahimovic called it quits after Sweden went tumbling out Euro 2016 at the end of the group stage but, with 14 or so weeks left until Russia 2018 begins in earnest, the 36-year-old has casually put his name forward for selection without actually saying as much.
Speaking at the opening of a new Padel tennis centre in Stockholm, Zlatan told Reuters reporter Philip O’Connor:
It’s a tough question. I want to feel that I can perform and give back. I don’t want to come just because I’m somebody. The door isn’t closed for anything.
I miss the national team. When you’ve played in the national team for 20 years and then you’re not in it anymore, and you see the others playing in the national team, it’s tough.
I don’t think anyone needs to [give me a phone call]. If I want to, I’m there, that’s how it is.
But one thing at a time. When I can do what I want to, I’ll have other thoughts.
As you may recall, Sweden fought tooth and nail to secure their qualification for Russia with an immense two-legged performance against Italy in the play-offs, all without Ibrahimovic on board.
Surely for him to waltz back in now (and presumably seize a place in the squad from a more deserving compatriot) would simply serve to undermine all the hard work Sweden have done in the interim to re-build and re-galvanise the national team without their figurehead and all-time top goalscorer to rely on.
You’ve already moved aside once, Zlatan. Now it’s time to let things lie and allow somebody else to have a go.