Zlatan Ibrahimovic believes Paris Saint-Germain’s Qatari owners will relentlessly “hunt down the Champions League” after financing the French club’s staggering progress over the last five years and transforming them into contenders for the European Cup.
The Sweden international moved to Paris from Milan in the summer of 2012 as the figurehead purchase of Qatar Sport Investments’ vast outlay on new players. Now 34 and enjoying arguably the most productive campaign of a glittering career, Ibrahimovic, sent off in this fixture last season, is aiming to inspire his side beyond Chelsea in the second leg of their knockout tie on Wednesday as PSG target progress into the competition’s latter stages.
The striker suggested PSG’s history really began only when they were bought by QSI, in 2011, though he actually charted their arrival from the moment he signed for the club a year later. “The team, the club I’m playing in now, is a project that began three-and-a-half years ago,” said Ibrahimovic, whose contract at Parc des Princes expires in the summer. “What happened before that, with all respect … this club was born the day the Qataris took over. People aim to measure our development since, but look at Chelsea. They had the same thing 12 years ago and when did they win the Champions League? In 2012.
“What the owners have done is amazing. We’ve made such a good team in such a short time. Why haven’t we advanced [beyond the Champions League quarter-finals]? This comes with experience. You don’t do these miracles in 24 hours. With time these things will come. With time these owners can achieve anything here. There are no limits. They will hunt down this Champions League until they get it and they will not stop, with me or without me. I wanted to be part of this and to take on this challenge. I want to do things, individual and collective, that will be written in history books. Please give it time and we will see.”
Those sentiments were echoed by the PSG manager, Laurent Blanc. The French side have reached three successive Champions League quarter-finals, the first under Carlo Ancelotti in 2013, and edged beyond Chelsea to reach the last eight last season with that progress going hand in hand with their utter dominance of France’s domestic game. A team who are 23 points clear at the top of Ligue 1 go into Wednesday’s match leading 2-1 from the first leg and expected to progress.
“This is a very young project, but we can sense a difference, in our opponents and also how we’re considered,”said Blanc.
“PSG are considered a serious proposition in Europe now, which is a serious thing. That’s a sign the club is progressing. Other clubs know that PSG will be able to win the Champions League one day, but it’s going to take time. It is necessary to have a bit of patience, as Zlatan said. He’s been part of the project from day one, from well before me, and can gauge how much progress has been made.
“PSG’s progression in the last four years has been rapid because we’ve made significant investment and brought in a lot of great players. But that’s not enough. There’s a distance still to be covered: not a long distance, but a very tough part of the road still to cover. I hope we can cover it together, Zlatan and I. Regardless, I’m sure that, one day, PSG will get there.”
Ibrahimovic has previously suggested he expects to depart Parc des Princes in the summer, potentially with a move to England on a 12-month deal before a swansong in Major League Soccer with Miami. Asked about his relationship with English football, the Swede referred back to his four-goal performance for his country in a friendly in Stockholm in late 2012. “After my four goals my relationship with England became perfect. Before that there was no relationship,” he said. “I have another two months with PSG and then the Euros with my national team. What happens after that? I’m not in discussions with anybody. It’s not the moment to talk about that. But the future looks good after this season. People say I’m old, but I’m only warming up. The future looks good. Age is just a number and the difference is how you feel. I feel young. I’ve never had better statistics than those from this season. This is the best I’ve had in that sense.”
The forward was sent off for a clumsy challenge on Oscar in last season’s second leg, a game eventually drawn 2-2 in extra time by the depleted visitors to ensure progress on away goals, and suggested post-match that Chelsea’s players had behaved like “babies” in their complaints to the referee, Bjorn Kuipers. “I never think about revenge,” he said. “Every game is a new game but, hopefully, I will stay on the pitch longer than the last time to have the possibility to do things I’m good at, play football.
“In that situation in the last game here I’d never seen anything like that before … from mature players like them, I didn’t expect it. But it’s a new game now. Let’s play it differently. Hopefully I will stay longer this time on the pitch, and there won’t be any mistakes from a person [the referee] who is not involved in the game.”
This article was written by Dominic Fifield, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 8th March 2016 19.38 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010