Zlatan Ibrahimovic Considering Sweden National Team Return for 2018 World Cup

Gianni Verschueren@ReverschPassFeatured ColumnistMarch 2, 2018

Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic, center, reacts end of the Euro 2016 Group E soccer match between Sweden and Belgium at the Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice, France, Wednesday, June 22, 2016. Belgium won 1-0. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Thanassis Stavrakis/Associated Press

Manchester United forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic has left the door open for a possible return to the Sweden national team ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup

As reported by Reuters' Philip O'Connor (h/t the Daily Mail), the 36-year-old spoke to reporters at the opening of his new paddle tennis centre in Stockholm, and he expressed a desire to return to international football:

"We'll see, it's a tough question. I want to feel that I can perform and give back. I don't want to come just because I'm somebody. The door isn't closed for anything.

"I miss the national team. When you've played in the national team for 20 years and then you're not in it anymore, and you see the others playing in the national team, it's tough.

"It's tough in general, when you think that I'm injured and not playing. I want to play, with the club team, with the national team, it's the same thing. They [the Swedish national team] have done a good job.''

Michael Sohn/Associated Press

He added he wouldn't need a telephone call, saying: "I don't think anyone needs to call. If I want to, I'm there, that's how it is. But one thing at a time. When I can do what I want to, I'll have other thoughts."

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Ibrahimovic retired from international duty at the end of the Euro 2016 tournament, walking away as the nation's all-time leading scorer. The Swedes, who had failed to qualify for the past two World Cups, booked their spot for Russia 2018 via a play-off win over Italy, leading to speculation he could return.

In November, he told reporters he would stay retired if Sweden qualified and even suggested the team was better off without him, as there was less pressure to win, per the Guardian's Marcus Christenson.

Dave Thompson/Associated Press

Speculation continued, however, and opinion on whether he should return was split. Swedish newspaper Expressen ran a poll (in Swedish) in which 63 per cent of 1,011 people surveyed urged him not to come back. Per Bleacher Report's Dean Jones, Swedish football expert Gunnar Persson did the same:

"The team spirit has been rebuilt, and that is something the Swedish side was always famous for.

"Everybody involved seems happier, and the new manager is what you might call a 'real football man,' with lots of common sense. There is no anxiety among the players, just the will to perform well. Emil Forsberg is a particular darling, never really pleased with himself, always trying to do better."

Manchester United's Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic kicks the ball during a team training session at the club's training complex near Carrington, west of Manchester in north west England on February 20, 2018, on the eve of their UEFA Champions League r
OLI SCARFF/Getty Images

A healthy and in-form Ibrahimovic remains one of the most lethal forwards in the world―it's almost impossible to suggest Sweden would be better off without him.

His health heading towards the end of the 2017-18 campaign is a huge question mark, and what could stand in the way of an international return. The veteran hasn't seen the pitch since December, cutting his comeback from major knee surgery short, per the Manchester Evening News' Alice McKeegan.