Zlatan Ibrahimovic is often portrayed as a man focused on himself. But if that were the case, he says, he wouldn't have achieved the amount of success he has in his career.
"In the beginning, I remember, in my career people built me up like the cocky one, he’s arrogant, big ego, but I mean if you have a big ego you don’t win 20 trophies," he said Friday during a conference call with American journalists.
Ibra showed humility throughout the call, lavishing praise upon the Qatari owners who brought him to Paris Saint-Germain and saying he'll root for his PSG teammates and for perceived nemesis Cristano Ronaldo at the World Cup. Ronaldo spurred Portugal to a playoff victory against Ibrahimovic's Sweden team that means Ibra won't play at the 2014 World Cup.
In many circles, that playoff was billed as an individual matchup between the two superstars with the other 20 players on the field virtually ignored. That type of promotion doesn't bother the PSG star.
"I’m not the one that builds up the game. I can only play my game, then the media does the commercial stuff," he said. "I think it’s a good way to promote a game against Portugal. When we played against Portugal there was a lot of talk about me and Ronaldo. I think it was good way, developed in a good way and the game became also more or less like that. I scored the goals, he scored the goals, but I think his team was better than mine"
Yet while he expressed respect for the Portuguese, he isn't sure who should win this year's Ballon d'Or.
"I think it’s a difficult question," he said. "You have to see it from game to game because one week Ronaldo is scoring three goals and the other week Messi is scoring four goals. So I don’t know how you do the judgement who will win the Golden Ball because if you look at what kind of collective trophies you won during 2013, Ronaldo didn’t win any trophy as individual, as collective. But I don’t know how they look at the judgement, so I think it will be difficult.
"Whoever wins will deserve to win the Golden Ball, so let’s see who wins. For me, I don’t know. I wish the best will win."
While he didn't make the shortlist for that prize, Ibrahimovic still could be in line to win some silverware from a 2013 that has seen him score more than 50 total goals. His stunning overhead strike from distance against England, his fourth of the match, is on the shortlist for the Puskas Award for the best goal scored during the year, with the winner set to be announced the same night as the Ballon d'Or.
"I think the favorite would be against England, of course," he said. "I think it was an amazing goal, and it was against England. That makes it even better."
Like any other time a European player speaks with an American audience, the topic of Major League Soccer was discussed.
"Maybe in America nobody knows who I am there, so maybe I should come over, play some seasons so people get to know me," he joked after getting questions about being left off the Ballon d'Or shortlist.
Ibrahimovic made clear that he intends to finish out his three-year deal with his current club and was adamant he must still be able to produce on the field and enjoy the game if he's to continue playing. So far, though, age isn't a concern.
"I think I’m like wine. The older the wine gets, the better it is. So the older I get, the better I get," the 32-year-old said.
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