Happier, humbler Zlatan leading PSG on all fronts

Posted by Julien Laurens

John Berry/Getty ImagesZlatan Ibrahimovic's increased happiness in Paris is helping to keep him focused and effective in leading PSG in all competitions.

For once, Zlatan Ibrahimovic played it down with modesty.

"If I am the best player in the world right now? It's a question that others can answer, not me," he said after his hat trick in Toulouse on Sunday gave PSG a 4-2 win. A few years back, a younger Zlatan would have replied something totally different, something probably closer to: "Of course I am. Haven't you seen my stats lately?"

To be fair, the Swede could have offered this retort Sunday because the stats would have demonstrated his point: 37 goals in 35 games with PSG this season, the best in Europe. Fourteen goals since the start of 2014; nobody tops that. Forty-six goals in 43 matches for club and country (nine for Sweden in nine games this season); ‎nobody has done more. And 10 goals in the Champions League this season!

In the words of Carly Simon, nobody does it better. And the list goes on...

However, Zlatan answered the question about his status with humility. This is something new for him. Ibra is having the best season of his career because he is not entirely the same as in ‎previous years ‎when he was at Juventus, Inter, Barcelona or even Milan.

He can still go mad ‎when things don't suit him; take last season, for example, when he wanted to park his car in front of the entrance of the PSG training ground, which is forbidden, and not in the players' car park (which was farther away). So what did Ibra do? He simply blocked the entrance so nobody could pass.

Or there was that time when he told his teammates at half-time against Troyes last year that his two little boys (aged 4 and 6) played better than them! Earlier this season, he complained that the food at the training ground was just not good enough and went even more ballistic when he was told that there was a budget of 15 Euros per player per day!

REMY GABALDA/AFP/Getty ImagesZlatan has embraced his role at the core of PSG's team, even serving as a mentor to the likes of Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi along the way.

Ibra will always be Ibra, but the main difference is that he has calmed down a little, mainly because of two things.

The first one is that he is happy at PSG, happier than anywhere else before. At 32, he is settled in Paris with his partner, Helena, and their two sons, Vincent and Maximilian. A few months ago, his boys joined a martial arts club in the centre of the capital where their dad comes to see them train to the amazement of the other parents. And Ibra has proved affable and friendly -- far from the stereotypes often associated with him.

"He is happy because it is the last phase of his career. He doesn't want to go anywhere anymore," his agent Mino Raiola said in France Football a few months ago. Even Jose Mourinho, who has remained close to the player since their time at Inter together, acknowledged the happiness in Ibra.

"Bring Ibrahimovic to Chelsea? It's impossible. He is happy in Paris," the ‎Chelsea manager told French television Sunday.

At the end of last season, it was Ibra who collected money from the rest of the squad to offer gifts to the staff at the training ground.

He is that happy because of the position he holds at the club, too. At PSG, Zlatan is the boss. He knows it, he says it (not even as a joke) and he means it. He has a very strong relationship with chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi, who pretty much does everything Ibra says. It's not a surprise, for example, that, since he signed his contract extension at the club last summer, his gang -- Thiago Silva, Thiago Motta, Maxwell, Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi -- have done or will do the same soon.

JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty ImagesIbra also has a strong bond with coach Laurent Blanc, which contributes to his overall sense of comfort and contentment at PSG.

It is the same with Laurent Blanc. When the manager started the season in a 4-4-2 formation with Edinson Cavani and Ibra up front and it didn't work, Ibra went to see him to tell him to change to a 4-3-3 with Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi wide. Blanc agreed, and the rest is already almost history.

Ibra's also happy because this is one of the best squads he has been working with -- apart from Barcelona, where he was always on the fringe anyway. "He is better here because the squad is better in Paris than it was in Milan," Silva said in an interview with L'Equipe last week.

The second reason is that he is wiser. He has a chef at home (as do Motta and Maxwell) to make sure he eats all the right things. He trains less than he used to in Italy, but Blanc can still remember his first training session at their St. Germain base. After arriving at 8 o'clock to prepare everything for a 10:30 a.m. start, the PSG manager saw Zlatan arriving at 8:30!

Blanc asked his striker what he was doing there so early, and Ibra replied that it was the time he was getting in every morning so he could see the physio or work a bit in the gym. He trains only when he wants, but, when he does train, he gives 200 percent and takes the rest of the squad with him. His influence on players such as Verratti, Gregory van der Wiel and Matuidi has been priceless.

Ibra feels important and loved, and that's when he is at his best. He is the club and the French league's superstar; probably even the best player in the world right now. He is insatiable and driven by the will of winning the Champions League, the only trophy missing in his list of honours. In the form he is right now, this definitely could be his year.


Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.