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Zlatan's Big Summer Decision: Who Cares?

30/03/2016 16:59

So, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is on the move. Or isn't. Or he's retiring. Or he's... going to be the Eiffel Tower, or something.

It's getting closer and closer to transfer silly season, and nobody does 'silly' better than Zlatan. His contract at Paris Saint-Germain ends this summer and, barring something massive convincing him to change his mind, he's leaving France.

He's been linked with about 39% of the clubs on the planet over the last six months, and he's hinted that he might be interested in a move to...well, pretty much all of them. But 'where will Zlatan go?' isn't the big question here. The big question is - does anybody really care?

It looks like the summer's main media focus is going to be on a man who's going to turn 35 less than two months into next season. By rights, this should just be a sideshow - but the Swede is just as good on paper (newspaper, that is) as he is on the pitch. If he's not the main attraction, it's not worth him getting out of bed.

Make no mistake, this transfer storm is almost entirely of Zlatan's own making. The prevalence of social media, online gossip sites and Sky Sports bleeding News make it easier, but he's been at the game long enough to know exactly the words and phrases to use to trigger a new round of speculation as soon as the last one's gone cold.

This week's gossip-bomb was a doozy. In an interview with a Swedish TV station, he just casually drops in the idea of his retirement. "Anything could happen next summer...maybe I'll just retire. Nobody's thought of that possibility," he said.

It's the revelation of a man who's enhanced his career by playing the media for over a decade, and has become a master - perhaps the master - of the art. Leave every option open, mention an idea that'll make headlines across Europe, and act as though the 'reveal' is a brand new, never reported before slice of gossip.

Of course, he knows full well that people have been speculating about his retirement. Even if he didn't keep a close eye on his press, he actually came out and addressed the retirement rumours head-on less than a month ago. He's told the world that he's nowhere near ready to retire, then watched just three weeks later as everyone laps up the 'entirely new idea' that he could - wait for it - retire in the summer.

He plays the media the same way he plays opposition defenders. A twist here, a deft turn there. Waiting for someone to expect the spectacular, then beating them with the simple. The increasingly cynical, click-driven internet landscape has made things easier than ever for him, to the point where writers care less and less if they're being manipulated. Zlatan gets his press. Websites get their headlines. Everyone's happy.

All of this serves to disguise one undeniable fact: Zlatan isn't actually that big a prize now. He's still an excellent player, but he'd be an extraordinary exception if he held his performance levels past the age of 35. He would be a one-season signing, a last-ditch gap-filler for a manager grasping for a desperate title tilt.

The thing is, none of the clubs who are interested in signing him (sorry, 'interested in signing him') are at that point. Almost all of the clubs he's been linked with are desperate, yes, but desperate for a complete rebuild.

A move to Manchester United could work for Zlatan himself, but it'd also completely stall the development of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford for a year. Antonio Conte is coming in at Chelsea to fix the short-term thinking of Jose Mourinho, and it's hard to imagine him trying to counter that with short-termism of his own.

The eventual move, wherever he does, will be underwhelming. Clubs will rule themselves out one-by-one, ultimately unwilling to hand over a huge signing bonus and the best part of £200,000-a-week to sign someone who's about to turn 35.

There'll be fanfare when The Decision is eventually made, but Zlatan's no peak-era LeBron. Who cares about where Zlatan moves? Perhaps not even the man himself. The journey, and the attention, may be more important than the destination.

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