Stockholm (AFP) – Ending weeks of speculation, the Swedish football federation announced Thursday that star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who quit the national squad in 2016, will not make a comeback for the World Cup in Russia.
“I spoke with Zlatan on Tuesday. He said that he has not changed his mind regarding the national squad,” the managing director of the national squad, Lars Richt, said in a statement after the player dropped numerous hints of a possible return.
“It’s a no,” Richt added.
In an appearance on ABC television’s late night Jimmy Kimmel show on April 18, the new star of LA Galaxy teased fans that he may come out of retirement to play in Russia.
Known for his swagger, Zlatan said “it wouldn’t be a World Cup” if he didn’t play, adding: “I’m going to the World Cup, yes.”
The 36-year-old who last played at a World Cup with Sweden in 2006, retired from the Swedish team after the 2016 European Championship.
He said last month he wanted to concentrate on settling into his new life in Major League Soccer before thinking about the World Cup.
Following an injury-blighted stay at Manchester United, the father of two became the latest in a long line of ageing stars to leave European football for the United States.
The 6ft 4ins (1.95m) striker tweeted on April 15: “The chance of me playing in the World Cup is skyhöga (sky high).”
He later told Swedish media that “high odds — that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.”
Ibrahimovic had just weeks earlier become a global brand ambassador for Swedish betting company Bethard, prompting some Swedish commentators to lament that his World Cup teasing was nothing more than an advertising gimmick.
“It feels like the whole thing was just aimed at building up his brand in the US and it even seemed at times like he thought it was funny,” Daniel Nannskog, a commentator for Swedish public broadcaster SVT, said.
– ‘Doesn’t change anything’-
At home in Sweden, Ibrahimovic’s possible World Cup return has elicited mixed reactions.
Sweden coach Janne Andersson has been coolly indifferent.
“It doesn’t change anything for me,” he said last month.
“Zlatan is very welcome to call me” if he wants to join the squad, Andersson added.
Richt declined to specify whether the team had asked Ibrahimovic to join.
He “has always said that he won’t play and he quit the national team,” Richt told AFP.
Some Sweden fans would love nothing more than to see the country’s most prolific goal-scorer — he notched 62 goals in 116 games — don the blue-and-yellow kit again.
But others argue he has no place on a squad that managed to qualify without him, memorably eliminating World Cup giants Italy in a playoff.
Ibrahimovic has 31 winners’ medals in spells with Ajax, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United.
But his 2017 season and ultimately his United career was brought to a premature end by cruciate ligament damage suffered in April.
He never returned as a regular in the United side.
In trademark style, he announced his arrival in Los Angeles with a full-page advert in the LA Times reading simply: “Dear Los Angeles, You’re welcome.”
However, his salary will be limited to around $1.5 million (1.2 million euros), a fraction of what he was paid by United.