Who says you can’t go home? Striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic recently said he plans to return to the Swedish national team. In a press conference in his hometown of Malmö, Ibrahimovic said he “missed” playing for Sweden...
By Chipp Reid
Who says you can’t go home? Certainly not football player ZLatan Ibrahimovic. The current Barcelona striker announced July 15 he would return to the Swedish national team after “retiring” last year following Sweden’s failed bid to qualify for the 2010 World Cup.
In a press conference in his hometown of Malmö, Ibrahimovic said he “missed” playing for Sweden and thought new head coach Erik Hamrén was the right man to lead the team to the 2012 UEFA European Championships. Hamrén replaced Lars Lagerbäck last year following Sweden’s World Cup campaign. Lagerbäck and Ibrahimovic had several well-publicized dust-ups as the coach questioned the work ethic of his star player.
“A motivated Zlatan is worth his weight in gold for the Swedish national team,” Hamrén said.
Ibrahimovic said he was ready to don the blue and gold of his country at any time.
“If I’m chosen for the next game (a home friendly against Scotland on Aug. 14), I’ll be there,” Ibrahimovic said.
The 6-foot-4-inch striker recently criticized the Swedish Football Association (SvFF) for what he said was a failure to groom the next generation of football players. He used what he called a “general lack of talent” as a reason why he would never return to the national team program.
A timely shift
His 180-degree shift came just three weeks after former Elfsborg and Swedish U-21 international midfielder Emir Bajrami moved from Sweden to Dutch outfit FC Twente for the second-highest transfer fee ever paid for a Swedish player. Ibrahimovic remains the top transfer fee when he moved from Malmö to Ajax Amsterdam.
Many coaches in Sweden believe Bajrami could have even more technical ability than Ibrahimovic without carrying some of the baggage the 28-year-old striker allegedly carries. Ibrahimovic has no problem telling the media and anyone else he is the best player to ever emerge from Sweden. His previous coaches in Holland, Italy and even at Barcelona, however, accused the forward of being lazy and selfish.
Those accusations, however, didn’t stop Hamrén from naming Ibrahimovic his side’s co-captain along with Elfsborg star Anders Svensson.
“I am proud (to be captain), it feels fantastic and I’ll do my best to be the leader that Erik wants me to be,” he said.
Ibrahimovic’s club career isn’t quite as rosy as his return to international duty. He spent much of last season as a substitute at Barcelona. The addition of Spanish World Cup hero David Villa to the Barca lineup could make it even more difficult for the big Swede to find a spot on the pitch. Newspaper reports have linked Ibrahimovic to moves to Manchester City and Chelsea in England or a possible return to Inter Milan, where he was a major star.
“I was a Barcelona player when I left (at the end of the season) and I’ll be a Barcelona player when I return,” Ibrahimovic said.
Sweden faces World Cup runners-up the Netherlands, Finland, Hungary, Moldova and San Marino in its Euro 2012 qualifying group.