Paris Saint-Germain hosted a conference call Friday with the inimitable Zlatan Ibrahimovic to promote the French club's friendly against Real Madrid, scheduled for Jan. 2 in Doha, Qatar.
PSG is owned by the Qatari Investment Authority, which poured millions into the club after buying in two years ago and signed the likes of Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Edinson Cavani, among others. SI.com asked the Swedish star to discuss the club's culture under its Qatari owners and his impressions of the small but wealthy nation that controversially beat out the U.S. for the right to host the 2022 World Cup.
"They have a big passion for football. It's not about being seen. If you can see in the whole project, you don't really see the people who are behind it. They want to be discreet and they have a passion for the football," Ibrahimovic said about PSG's management team, which is lead by club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi.
"They want to see beautiful football, but at the same time, you need to bring results," he continued. "I'm playing maybe 12 years at the top level now. I know you need to bring results, [whether] you play beautiful or less beautiful. It's all about the results ... They're very well informed about football and of course, they have wishes about the way they want to have it, which is normal because these are the people behind the investment ... It's all about their wishes and we are trying to fulfill their wishes. It's nothing different from the traditional things I've been through before. But this is a different project, a different kind of exciting adventure for me because everything is new. It's all about bringing up PSG to a high level and I think they've done a fantastic job so far."
PSG might represent one of the world's great cities, but it's been far from a soccer powerhouse. The club won only its third Ligue 1 championship in the spring. It was its first in 19 years.
"The people that are behind the PSG project ... they're not 100 percent, but 200 percent behind the investment, the project. They want to keep on," Ibrahimovic said. "It's not easy, because to bring a club to the top is not easy. If you see all the top clubs, it's a long tradition, a long history that they have. That's why they're big clubs, because they went through all of this."
Asked about the soccer culture in Qatar and the 2022 World Cup, Ibrahimovic kept it light. He said he could "feel the development of the football" there during his previous visit to the country and that "everyone was very positive." He lauded Doha's Aspire sports academy, saying, "I wish I had those kind of conditions when I was young."
A few more thoughts from Friday's call:
On Sweden's World Cup qualifying playoff loss to Portugal and on missing next summer's tournament in Brazil
"I didn’t reach the World Cup. I did my best and I think my national team did everything they could. They did it in a way that we couldn't do it better, but unfortunately we played against a better nation than us. Already, I'm suffering because I didn't [get] to the World Cup. And it does go away slowly, slowly, with every game I'm playing. I try to bring out this anger in the game, of course in a positive way. I think the disappointment will come back during the World cup. For sure I will see some games, but it's not like I will run home and sit in front of the television and say, 'Now, the game begins.' If I know the game is there, I will watch it and I will be cheering for [PSG] teammates that will be playing in the World Cup. So, hopefully one of them will win and I will be as happy as if I played in the World Cup for them."
On whether he's a viable candidate for the FIFA Ballon d'Or, awarded annually to the player judged to be the best in the world
"I do pressure myself to do my best. It’s up to other people to talk about it. Whoever talks about the nominees to win the Golden Ball, it’s up to other people. I don’t like to talk about myself doing it and I don’t promote myself in that kind of way to win something because I'm not the one, who if I don't win it I will go out and cry. I will keep training hard and do my best ... I'm not in that pole position [for the award], and I prefer to be like that."
On potentially playing in MLS
"I don’t know, in America maybe nobody knows who I am there. Maybe I should come over and play some seasons so people get to know me ... It could be interesting to go over to America and try the football there. But today it's not interesting. Let’s see what happens in the future. I still have another three years to play in Paris, and I will fulfill my contract. After that I will be 34 or 35. I want to play football, yes, but I want to give results if I can give. I don’t know if I’m 35 and can bring any results in MLS, maybe I will be too old or something. This, I don’t know about."
On his ego and showmanship
"I try to be myself, and then you have a media that puts the level of the conversation. When you ask a stupid question, you get a stupid answer. That's the way it is. I just try to be myself in every question I get ... [People] build me up as the cocky, what, 'He’s arrogant. He has a big ego.' But if you have a big ego, you don’t win 20 trophies, collective trophies. This is something the media makes up and this is something you have to live with. For me, I respect every person, especially the football players, because this is the game I play and that's my area ... For me, I don't mind. I play my game and I’m very very happy and I think the people around me are very happy, and that's the way it is."