With Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Paris Saint-Germain contract expiring next summer and the Swede unlikely to remain in the French capital past the end of this season, the Ligue 1 champions are in the process of identifying the 33-year-old’s successor.
Ibrahimovic is on the verge of equalling Les Parisiens’ all-time scoring record of 109 goals, set by legendary Portuguese striker Pauleta, after his recent efforts in wins over EA Guingamp and FC Nantes moved him up to a total of 108.
It is possible that we see Zlatan finally become PSG’s all-time leading marksman in the near future. The French champions are in UEFA Champions League action away at Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday and then host bitter rivals Olympique de Marseille in this season’s first instalment of Le Classique on Sunday.
Considering Ibrahimovic’s history of finding the back of the net against OM, don’t put it past him to end the suspense with a goal or two in the next few games. Once done, aside from leading PSG to Champions League glory, there will be little left for the talismanic striker to achieve in Paris.
Another attacking player busy breaking records is Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, who, incidentally, will be a Group A opponent for Les Parisiens in the next few months when the two clubs meet on European football’s most prestigious stage.
The Portugal international is enduring his least prolific start to a season in five years after failing to score in a 0-0 draw at home to Malaga CF, meaning he has scored in just one of his six La Liga games so far.
However, he still has five goals in those six games, having almost single-handedly annihilated Espanyol in a 6-0 win in which he either scored or assisted all the goals.
Thanks to that stunning display, which was then followed by a hat-trick in a 4-0 demolition of Shakhtar in the Champions League just three days later, Ronaldo still has eight goals in as many games.
Claims that the Portuguese is in crisis are wide of the mark, it seems.
However, speculation continues to link the Real man with a move away from Santiago Bernabeu, and PSG are apparently one of the clubs keenest to acquire the former Manchester United star. Per Spanish outlet El Mundo Deportivo (h/t ESPN FC’s Adriana Garcia), Los Blancos rejected a €150 million offer from the French giants this summer.
At 30 years old, Cristiano is still scoring goals and arguably has time for one last big-money move in his career.
With those recent goals against Espanyol, Ronaldo overtook legendary striker Raul as Real’s all-time top scorer in La Liga and is now just a couple of goals shy of equalling the Spaniard’s club record of 323 across all competitions.
There is little doubt Los Merengues’ No. 7 will surpass that total before the end of the season, and once he has, like Ibrahimovic at PSG, there is arguably little else for the player to really strive for in the Spanish capital.
For this reason, a new challenge with one of Europe’s emerging superpowers from next summer might appeal to Ronaldo.
Considering his age and the relatively short space of time it has taken him to eat away at the ground between himself and Raul in the all-time scoring charts, there is a good chance that if Cristiano signed for PSG, he would break the new record Ibrahimovic will surely set at Parc des Princes.
Also, taking into account the strength of the French giants’ current squad, a move to Paris would—on paper at least—offer the Portugal captain the chance to lift the Champions League trophy at least one more time.
There are a number of other reasons why a PSG move for Ronaldo would make sense.
The Ligue 1 juggernauts desire Champions League success more than anything else, and after three consecutive quarter-final appearances, they look well placed to go at least one step further than that this season.
Cristiano has won the competition twice, once with Manchester United and once with Real, so he offers PSG the sort of experience they are looking for when investing in star names. It was for those same reasons they invested in the Portuguese’s former team-mate Angel Di Maria this summer—a purchase that looks like an inspired decision so far.
Ibrahimovic is one of the most iconic names in world football at present, yet Ronaldo’s aura dwarfs that of the Swede both on and off the pitch.
As an added bonus away from the field, the latter’s arrival in Paris would further open up the large Portuguese community in Paris, with PSG’s Brazilian contingent already proving a big draw.
The positives end there, though.
Zlatan’s time with PSG should have taught the French champions a few things about star players, and there are lessons from the Scandinavian superstar’s time in France the capital club must take into account when considering whether to make another move for another megastar in Ronaldo.
After nearly four seasons with Ibrahimovic, the Ligue 1 champions were only really able to start moving out of the towering striker’s shadow last season, when he was struck down by a series of injuries.
Something similar has happened at the start of this campaign, but thanks to last term’s practice, Laurent Blanc and his players can now cope better in the influential Swede’s absence.
When Ibrahimovic plays for PSG and he is fully fit and on form, there is no doubt he makes the team stronger. Les Parisiens’ No. 10 can decide games on his own, and he has scored prolifically in his three seasons in Le Championnat so far.
However, when in that dominant mood, Zlatan requires every player in the team to revolve around him.
With Ibrahimovic, PSG are a talented team of players led by a supremely gifted individual, and the Swede’s team-mates have to put themselves at his service. Without him, they lack one major individual talent, but they are able to function more freely as a team and their collective ability comes to the surface.
Zlatan is indulging his creative side more and more this season now that he has specifically been asked to occupy more of a playmaking role thanks to his habit of dropping deep to pick up the ball. This involves his team-mates more than before, with summer arrival Di Maria and the in-form Edinson Cavani notable beneficiaries.
At Real, there is a similar situation with Ronaldo, and the big danger for PSG in replacing Ibrahimovic with the Portuguese is that they would be swapping one talented individual for another to the potential detriment of a very talented group of players.
Cristiano’s need for the team to revolve around him is similar to Zlatan’s, yet there is one major difference: Being creative and providing chance for other players comes more naturally to Ibrahimovic than it does Ronaldo.
The PSG star is capable of being selfish and putting himself before the team, but he is equally capable of generosity on the pitch and providing others with scoring opportunities. That has always been part of Zlatan’s game, yet it is not as prominent in Ronaldo’s, and there is actually evidence to suggest the Real star’s selfishness is becoming more noticeable.
For example, the Portuguese has struggled to co-exist with another big star in Gareth Bale at the Santiago Bernabeu—similar to Ibrahimovic and Cavani’s difficulties in Paris.
There have also been occasions, such as his tantrum after Alvaro Arbeloa beat him to a cross to score in a 3-0 win over Almeria last season (h/t the Mirror’s Hamish Mackay), when his lack of camaraderie has been exposed.
Having overcome their Zlatan dependency, it makes little sense for PSG to swap one talented individual for another when the replacement appears less willing to involve his team-mates than his predecessor.
Also necessary is a comparison of the likely value for money the Ligue 1 powerhouse would be getting.
In Ibrahimovic, for the reasonable price of £14.7 million, per Transfermarkt, PSG acquired a player who enjoyed the best years of his career in Paris and will likely go on to become their all-time top scorer by the time his fourth season is over.
Admittedly, Zlatan’s wages are astronomical, as revealed by L’Equipe (h/t ESPN FC’s Ian Holyman) when his one-year contract extension was signed back in September 2013.
However, realistically, Ronaldo will command as great a salary—if not greater—than the Swede, and his transfer will cost significantly more after that aforementioned €150 million bid that was reportedly rejected over the summer.
If he made the move, Cristiano would probably overtake Ibrahimovic as PSG’s all-time top scorer and possibly even lead the team to continental glory. Yet comparatively, it is unlikely he would prove to be the greater bargain in the long term.
Ronaldo would be a good replacement for Ibrahimovic at PSG in name and image only. If he arrives, then the team will suffer from similar issues on the pitch, except the individualistic nature of the team would be greater than ever.
If that happens, the star-studded squad assembled at Parc des Princes will continue to perform below its immense potential and a number of players at the club could even ask to leave, such as Cavani, who is finally enjoying the feeling of being the team’s primary goal threat.
The bottom line, though, and the factor likely to make or break any potential move for Ronaldo is whether he could bring PSG and the club's owner, Qatar Sports Investments, closer to the ambition of winning the Champions League.
If they do not win the competition this season, the answer to that question will be yes.
Considering that UEFA’s financial fair play rule is now less of an issue for PSG after this summer’s easing of restrictions, as reported by PA Sport (h/t ESPN FC), an offer of higher value for Ronaldo in the future should not be ruled out.