AC Milan legend Mauro Tassotti believes David Beckham's arrival to steal the spotlight at PSG is not responsible for Zlatan Ibrahimovic's recent dip in form, insisting the the Sweden striker is simply suffering because expectations of his scoring ability have been heightened by his performances in 2012.
Ibrahimovic, 31, rattled in 18 goals in 16 Ligue 1 games before Christmas, the best tally of any French top-flight player at that stage of the season since the mid-1980s. He has added just four in his last seven league outings however, though Tassotti believes the Swede's remarkable goalscoring form in 2012, which saw him scored 46 times in 48 outings for Milan and PSG, raised expectations unrealistically.
"People get too used to him. Even in Italy, when he didn't score for two games, everyone was asking why. In Paris, I get the impression it's the same thing," Tassotti, who has been assistant coach at Milan since 2001, told L'Equipe.
"Today, the team is playing better, so he stands out less. I think he's paying for his efforts earlier in the season."
French media reports have suggested Ibrahimovic's dip in output is a result of his ego being bruised by the attention paid to Beckham since his arrival in January. A cartoon in Tuesday's L'Equipe portrayed Ibrahimovic looking enviously at an outsized Beckham, bathed in a golden spotlight, and saying: 'I want to be in David's place'.
The image of the ex-England captain smiling after leaping into the arms of Ibrahimovic at the final whistle of Sunday's win over Marseille made front and back pages around the world, however, and Tassotti does not believe the former Ajax, Juventus and Inter Milan forward is jealous of Beckham's global renown.
"Even if he [Zlatan] takes up a lot of the limelight, he's used to sharing it. It's easier too because David is no longer at the top of his game, and they're not rivals in sporting terms," three-time European Cup winner Tassotti said.
A staunch supporter of Ibrahimovic, PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti fuelled the debate by publicly criticising the forward after Sunday's 2-0 win over Marseille. "He didn't have a good game," the Italian said, despite seeing his No. 10 score his team's late second goal.
However, Ancelotti added tellingly: "But everyone knows that Ibra isn't a player for counter-attacking," suggesting the switch to a 4-4-2 formation which exploits the pace of Lucas and Ezequiel Lavezzi, rather than the 4-2-3-1 in which Ibrahimovic thrived as a lone striker linking up with a trio of attacking midfielders, has also contributed to his recent frop in form.
"With the arrival of Lucas and the change in position for Lavezzi, PSG play more on the counter attack. In that set-up, you have to be able to sprint and sprint again over 30 or 40 metres as they do," ex-Lyon and French international midfielder Eric Carriere told Le Parisien. "He has to keep repeating these high-intensity runs, which means he might be less clear-headed when he gets the ball."
Meanwhile, the French verb inspired by Ibrahimovic, 'zlataner', invented by Canal+'s equivalent of Spitting Image, Les Guignols de l'info, will have to wait before it finds itself officially accepted into the French language. Though it has been adopted in Sweden, where it means 'to take charge of something with vigour, to dominate', a definition has yet to be settled upon in France where it is generally taken as meaning 'to win hands down' and, colloquially, 'to give somebody a good shoeing'.
"The term is under observation, a period which could last up to five years. It's a funny word, but is perhaps just the product of a fad," Carine Girac-Marinier, Director of the Dictionary and Encyclopedia Department at publishing house Editions Larousse, told Le Parisien.
Ibrahimovic and his team-mates do have their own chapter in the annals of French TV history, however, after a record audience of more than 2.8 million tuned in to watch their victory in the Classique against Marseille, a figure that is some 200,000 in excess of the previous record, set when the two sides met in Marseille last October.