HE’S ARROGANT, he’s controversial, but he is an exceptional talent. And today, Zlatan Ibrahimovic plays his last game for Paris St. Germain, the Coupe de France final against Olympique Marseille.
The pre-match talk has been as much about Zlatan’s fitness as the next stop on his incredibly glittering career. Whether you like him or not – and you’ll always want a player like him on your side rather than in opposition – you cannot deny the phenomenal statistics that back up his claim to be one of the all-time modern greats.
While there have been reports of a troublesome calf, the cynics might argue that Zlatan is keeping his audience waiting, teasing them ahead of the final. Even just a few hours before the game, there are news stories that claim “Zlatan is fit”, “Zlatan if struggling”, “Zlatan ruled out”. He’s a showman, one of the few left in the game. How much publicity is, in fact, part of the very mystique of Sweden’s talismanic striker?
And what a finale to his PSG career – Le Classique. PSG will go into the game as red hot favourites after their runaway campaign that saw them win 30 of their 38 Ligue 1 games, score 102 goals, concede 19 and notch up 96 points. Marseille finished 13th with half as many points and goals, and just a third of PSG’s wins. PSG won both meetings in Ligue 1 by 2-1.
Zlatan’s season was his best in PSG’s colours – 48 goals in all competitions, including 38 in Ligue 1. His arrival in Paris became a symbol of the PSG monopoly, the question is not just where he will go next, but who will PSG sign to become the figurehead of their relentless pursuit of silverware?
What will he settle for? This is a player who does not know how to end a season without a league title. In 15 campaigns, he has won 13 championships – four with PSG, one with Milan, one with Barca, three with Inter, two with Juve and two with Ajax.
It is likely that PSG will win Ligue 1 again even without their prized asset and if they beat Marseille in the Coupe de France final, it will be a second successive clean sweep of French football.
Can Marseille pull off a shock result? There can be no greater motivation for them given that this is France’s big derby – the cultural hub of French café society against the working class port of Marseille. North v South.
Marseille may have a matchwinner in Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi, who scored 17 goals in Ligue 1 this season. It will also be his last game for his club as OM coach Franck Passi announced that Batshuayi is on the move in the summer, with English Premier clubs West Ham and Tottenham interested in the youngster.
Marseille have had an easier passage to the final than PSG. They beat Sochaux, Granville, Trelissac, Montpellier and Caen on the route to the Stade de France, and they have yet to concede a goal. PSG have disposed of Lorient, St. Etienne, Lyon, Toulouse and Wasquehal.
This is the Coupe de France’s 99th year. An astonishing 8,500 teams enter the competition. Marseille are the most successful club in its history, winning 10 and losing in the final on a further eight occasions. PSG have won nine and finished runners-up four times. So we have two teams with a strong pedigree in this year’s final. PSG are the holders and they are also holding the trump card. Don’t bet against Zlatan bowing out like all true actors – dramatically.