‘I came like a king, left like a legend,’ says modest Zlatan

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will leave Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the season having been crowned France's player of the year for a record third time. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Zlatan Ibrahimovic will leave Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the season having been crowned France's player of the year for a record third time. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
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The French league will be missing its most charismatic player next season after Zlatan Ibrahimovic announced yesterday that he will leave Paris Saint-Germain.

The Sweden international, whose contract expires in June, said he will be playing his final match at PSG’s home ground today against Nantes.

“My last game tomorrow at the Parc des Princes. I came like a king, left like a legend,” Ibrahimovic said in his trademark arrogant style.

Today’s match won’t be the last in a PSG jersey for Ibrahimovic, who is also expected to play in the French Cup final against Marseille at the Stade de France on 21 May. He reportedly pushed for a one-year extension but PSG said the club and player decided mutually not to renew their contract. “They agreed as well that once the player ends his active football career he would be back in the club in a managerial capacity,” PSG said in a statement.

At 34, Ibrahimovic has enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career. Although he failed again in his task of delivering the Champions League to the Qatari-owned club, he was named the Ligue 1 player of the year for the third time in four seasons. “Ibra will have widely contributed to transform Paris Saint-Germain into one of the biggest clubs in Europe,” PSG said.

The striker became PSG’s all-time leading goalscorer as the Parisian club won a fourth consecutive Ligue 1 title. Earlier this week, he moved to within one goal of Carlos Bianchi’s record for a French league season after scoring his 36th in a 1-1 draw at Bordeaux. He is the first player to score more than 30 in a season in France’s top flight since Bianchi hit 37 in 1977-78. “I’m very proud of the last four years,” Ibrahimovic said. “I loved every day I spent here. Paris Saint-Germain has become a star club in the world and I played a key role moving it forward. It is now the right time for me to take a different path.”

A big fan of Ibrahimovic, PSG coach Laurent Blanc said the striker was a driving force behind PSG’s development as a major European force over the past four years.

“Not only on the pitch but also in terms of image and charisma, he’s a player who does not leave one indifferent,” Blanc said. “He contributed to make PSG’s project a reality and maybe exceeded expectations from the owners.”

Ibrahimovic, who has previously expressed his interest in playing across the Atlantic in MLS, has yet to announce where his next destination will be. After leading Sweden at the European Championship, which starts on 10 June in France, he could also cross the Channel to play in the English Premier League. The much-travelled Swede, who played one season for Barcelona, has also been linked with Real Madrid, where he is thought to be interested in working with coach Zinedine Zidane.

In Paris, he will be remembered for his goals – 152 in 178 games – but also his controversial personality. Last year, just a month after he described Chelsea players as a bunch of “babies,” Ibrahimovic was suspended for four matches following his criticism of a referee and France in general. His offensive comments caused an outcry, with National Front leader Marine Le Pen suggesting he should leave the country if he was not happy and the French sports minister asking him to apologise.

Although Blanc has plenty of attacking options in his squad, PSG will now be actively looking for Ibrahimovic’s replacement. PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi is eager to sign Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo, while Barcelona’s Neymar and Atletico Madrid striker Antoine Griezmann are reportedly on the French club’s radar.

“There are no other players like Ibra, or very few,” Blanc said. “A page is turning with our major player [leaving], it’s quite sad but our project 
continues. The next season starts today.”