Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s transfer to Paris Saint-Germain was a case of third time lucky for the Ligue 1 side. After attempts to lure David Beckham and Carlos Tevez fell through last season, PSG finally bagged a marquee name. The signing of the brilliant yet at times infuriating Swede is possibly even the biggest in the history of French football.
Almost a year ago, Javier Pastore’s transfer from Palermo to the Parc des Princes seemed to herald a new dawn in Ligue 1. As it turned out, Montpellier won the unlikeliest of league titles.
In response, PSG have spent more on signing Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva from AC Milan than Montpellier spent in the whole of last season; the Parisians have also brought in Argentine striker Ezequiel Lavezzi from Napoli, to bolster an already crowded attacking department.
But buying Ibrahimovic is the boldest statement yet from the Qataris who took over PSG last summer. How any team in France can hope to keep up with a team spending such sums is difficult to imagine. Montpellier, Lyon, Marseille and Lille have either spent nothing or only reinforced to replace star players. Last season was a pointed reminder though that money guarantees nothing.
Yet to look beyond PSG for the Ligue 1 title is increasingly difficult when Carlo Ancelotti’s men are simply piling up star after star. Ibrahimovic’s transfer is particularly pivotal, allowing as it does the side’s Qatari owners to raise the profile of the Parisians even further. The capital club are not yet among Europe’s elite, but signing a star of Ibrahimovic’s quality is a signal of their intent. The Swedish forward will presumably, given his transfer fee and wages, now walk straight into the team at the Parc des Princes, with Kevin Gameiro and Guillaume Hoarau left to ponder what exactly remains for them in the French capital.
The same could be said for Nene, Jeremy Menez and Pastore too. Presumably two of these players will have to make way for Ibrahimovic and Lavezzi, unless Ancelotti decides on a more attacking system than last year. However, the Italian played with just three forward players during the second half of the season and is now left with a new tactical dilemma. The fluid front three of Nene, Menez and Pastore worked well, bringing a cutting edge Ancelotti had been searching for with his own take on a striker-less formation.
To accommodate Ibrahimovic that system must now change, but it is unlikely that Qatari Sports Investments, who own the club, will have been too concerned about that when securing his transfer. For them, the man set to pick up €14.5M per year announces their arrival on the world stage; Ibrahimovic is to the Parisians what Robinho and Samuel Eto’o were to Manchester City and Anzhi Makhachkala respectively – profile is everything in the age of the mega-rich owner. That is what led the club to sack Antoine Kombouare when top of the league halfway through last season and replace him with Ancelotti.
It has almost been forgotten amid the fanfare over Ibrahimovic that Silva and Lavezzi are top class players who will be significant on the pitch in their own right. It is easy to understand how though, when the Swede gifts easy to write headlines after making comments such as "I’m joining a dream team that will become even bigger as time goes by." Adding “PSG is on its way to becoming a huge club and I’m delighted to be part of the project. I will be playing with some of the best players in the world. PSG is the future. Who wouldn’t want to play here?"
For Ibrahimovic, now the world’s most expensive player in accumulated transfer fees at €180M, the move is an opportunity on a personal level to make a statement by driving the club into Europe’s elite. Though the Swede has enjoyed a perhaps overly critical press in the past, in spite of his extraordinary title winning record, it is arguable that he has never really carried the teams he has played for. The 30-year-old has been a crucial part of all the sides he has played in, Barcelona aside, but has never quite reached the heights that his talent has promised. Impressive as he was at Euro 2012, Ibrahimovic did not inspire Sweden the way Cristiano Ronaldo did Portugal. Undeniably gifted, Paris could be the perfect stage for the former FK Balkan man to show how good he really can be.
Ibrahimovic should enjoy the French league, though at times its defensive nature could pose problems. He also creates a potential rod for his own back. Even when he is merely very good he gives the impression that he could do better. His arrogance mixed with a sometimes questionable work ethic is a mix that few, such as Ronaldo, can get away with. In fairness Ibrahimovic has shown he can too for most of his career, having won so many titles, though now the striker has to be a success in France as well, or his critics will not hold back in digging their claws into him. The Sweden international has an opportunity, but it is one laced with risk.
Paris and Milan may be two of Europe’s most stylish cities, but on the pitch the challenge for Ibrahimovic will be different. Ligue 1 is faster than Serie A. It is also more physical, which should not be an issue, but for a 30-year-old he will be tested. At his best though Ibrahimovic’s movement combined with his strength and technique makes him almost impossible to mark and if he can hit the high notes for Les Parisiens, he should be a success in France. Ibrahimovic famously did not get on with Josep Guardiola at Barcelona, but the laid back Ancelotti may well be suited to bringing the best out of him. One man with few doubts is director of football Leonardo, who leveraged his contacts at his former club to bring Ibrahimovic and Silva to Paris.
“When a player of this calibre joins, it’s something huge. He’s a player who can change everything”, said the former Milan man.
No pressure there then, but Ibrahimovic is precisely the sort of character who relishes such lofty expectations. The challenge of being the man to drag Paris Saint-Germain into Europe’s elite is one which should suit the Swede well.