Zlatan Ibrahimovic future at PSG still uncertain despite superb season
L'Equipe newspaper is a very serious publication. They take particular care with the player ratings they do for every Ligue 1 game throughout the season. They never go over the top, they don't show favouritism and they don't get carried away either. So when they rated Zlatan Ibrahimovic as a 9/10 for his performance in Saturday's 4-1 win vs. Reims, you knew something special happened.
Obviously, a perfect 10 would have been better; only seven players, among them Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski, ever got a 10 in the newspaper's history but a nine is really rare, too. It is not his first one, of course -- he got an nine in the 2013-14 season when he scored four goals away at Anderlecht in the Champions League group stages.
It is actually quite easy to sum up Ibra's game on Saturday: assist, goal, assist, goal. He simply walked over the Reims defence. They couldn't stop him but not many others have been able to, either. Chelsea couldn't; he scored and led PSG from the front at the Parc des Princes last week, a constant threat for the Blues' defence. His stats this season are simply incredible especially when you consider that he is 34 years of age and missed the start of the campaign due to an injury that limited him to just two games in the first five weeks.
The longest he has gone without scoring in 2015-16 is three games -- the first three he played, against Monaco, Malmo and Reims -- although he did tally two assists over that span. Apart from that, he has only failed to score in seven of the 30 matches he's played, and never two in a row! Ibra has 23 league goals in 21 games (20 starts and one sub appearance) with 10 assists as well. In his last five matches across all competitions, he has seven goals, or you can look at his run of 16 in his last 14.
All those goals scored and all that brilliance could almost make you forget that Zlatan is a free agent at the end of the summer. His contract at PSG ends in June and so far, the French champions have not intimated that they will offer his star striker a new deal. Their idea for next season is to replace the ageing Swede with another huge star like Cristiano Ronaldo or Neymar. But it looks like Real Madrid will not let the former go while the latter is reportedly close to signing a new deal at Barcelona.
In that case, can PSG really let Ibrahimovic go for free given the form he is in?
It is hard to believe. Yes, he will be 35 in October and his influence, which goes way beyond the pitch, is sometimes more of a burden for the team than anything else. But if PSG cannot get Ronaldo or Neymar, who else can take this team forward? Lewandowski? Gonzalo Higuain? Sergio Aguero? None of them would be a given in terms of and none of those three would be easy to recruit anyway.
Thiago Silva, PSG captain and close friend of Ibra, said something very interesting on Saturday after the Reims game. "I think Ibra wants to stay," he declared. And that's the next question: what does Ibra want?
He is happy in Paris and so is his family. He is winning trophies and playing for a team that has every chance of lifting the Champions League, the only thing he has never won, in the near future. He still feels that he can play in one of the five big European leagues so he will surely reject Major League Soccer, China or more exotic offers for at least one more season.
Would Ibra go back to Italy? He thought about it last summer but his current wages (€12 million/year after tax) would be an issue. Germany? Not for him. Spain? He wouldn't go back to Barcelona and Real Madrid don't seem so keen of getting him.
So what's left: England? He played it cool after the Chelsea game, stopping in the mixed zone to talk to English reporters and telling them: "I have another three months here and, then, what will happen? Big things will happen." Asked whether that meant a move to England, he said: "Let's just say I am in good shape."
He has of course never played in the Premier League and a few clubs there, like Man United or Chelsea, would be interested. But at his age, it would be a big gamble for Ibra and for his reputation. If he moved to England, he would want to conquer it like he conquered Italian or French football but it would be very difficult to do that again.
When you look at it closely, it makes more and more sense that Ibra could stay another season in Paris. Although there is still a long way to go before this happens.
Julien Laurens is a London-based French journalist who writes for ESPN FC and Le Parisien. Follow him on Twitter: @LaurensJulien.