By Peter Staunton
November 2012. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has just torn England asunder in an international friendly, scoring four goals including a scarcely believable overhead-kick from outside the box.
He uses the post-match press briefing to thumb his nose at those in England who continue to doubt his capabilities, revealing a mutuality in the aloofness held towards him by sections of British press and fans who fail to see the big deal.
"That's the way it is with the English. If you score against them you're a good player, if you don't score against them you're not a good player," he said. "I remember [them having doubts about] Lionel Messi before the 2009 Champions League final. Then he scored against Manchester United and suddenly he was the best player in the world.
"Maybe now they'll say something like that about me."
A career that took him to all corners of Europe never washed him ashore in England. For that egregious snub alone he cannot not measure up to the Anglo-Saxon definition of a great player.
We knew at that point in the winter that the English didn't really rate him. But what we didn't realise until then is that it bothered him.
|IBRA'S ITCHY TRANSFER TRIGGER FINGER
|The Swede, 19, joined the Dutch giants in 2001 from Malmo. His 38 months at Ajax remain the longest he has spent at a club in his professional career.|
|Ibra joined for €16 million and shone in his two seasons in Turin. Juve's relegation as part of the Calciopoli scandal saw him seek a move elsewhere in Italy.|
|Costing nearly €25m, Ibra helped Inter break records en route to three successive Scudettos and strengthening his formidable reputation as a forward.|
|Ibra jumped ship again in 2009 for Barca in a €69m deal. However, he failed to gel with Pep Guardiola and it proved to be a bad move for the player, coach and club.|
| AC MILAN
|A year-long loan deal in 2010 was followed by an estimated €24m permanent swap. He finished as Milan's top scorer in both years before being sold in 2012.|
| PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN
|PSG's project finally had their world class striker in 2012 and the club romped to the Ligue 1 title for the first time in 19 years thanks to Ibra's goals.|
He answered them then, fleetingly. But, come on, it was only a friendly - nothing was at stake. The doubts remain like that Champions League albatross around his neck. He's not won that and he's not played in England. Must be rubbish. Right?
Well now, if he likes, Ibra might have a chance to change all that. He might have a chance to shove it down their throats once and for all. For now, like never before, he has a golden opportunity to come to England.
He's not 100 per cent happy with the current set-up at Paris Saint-Germain. He doesn't like to share any sort of limelight and, with the signing of Edinson Cavani from Napoli, his status as head honcho around the Parc des Princes is threatened. Not for the first time, his agent Mino Raiola has been told to put out the feelers.
He's given the fans stick and his wife is reported not be settled in the French capital. Fans chasing him around the streets on scooters stress him out. He's turned down the PSG captaincy. He said it should go to someone who plans on sticking around long term. Zlatan doesn't do long term. And at 31, with two years left on an eye-watering contract that is just about the richest in football, he doesn't have long term in him even if he wanted it.
He probably would have stayed put had Carlo Ancelotti not left for Real Madrid. Could they be reunited at the Santiago Bernabeu? The Italian has a gentlemen's agreement in place with Paris. He won't nick their players. Zlatan respects Ancelotti, but Laurent Blanc? Not so sure. Zlatan probably perceives himself to be of a greater standing to the former France coach. He's already failed to return calls to the new man who graciously left him off PSG's less-than-gruelling pre-season training camp. Blanc's already pandering to the forward but will it be enough?
There's great talk in football these days about 'projects'. It's the type of thing a Samuel Eto'o or a Radamel Falcao would say before being paid tens of millions of Euros to play for an average club. It took Cavani about five minutes to mention it in his first PSG press conference. Well, if a project is what Zlatan is after then he could join Manchester City or Chelsea; two clubs where that 'project' template was laid down long before money was poured into Anzhi Makhachkala, Paris or Monaco. Two clubs who have spent their way to the top of the pile. Two clubs who could do with him.
Manchester City reportedly lined up Zlatan before the summer in case they failed to lure Cavani to the Etihad, while Ibrahimovic is well-known to the main men at the club. Sporting director Tkixi Begiristain and chief executive Ferran Sorriano were both involved with Barcelona when Ibrahimovic made his move to Camp Nou in 2009 and they know what it takes to do business with Raiola.
City need strikers. With Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez gone and Edin Dzeko seemingly set to follow in their footsteps, Zlatan would be the perfect fit to fill that void, regardless of their respective moves for Sevilla's Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic from Fiorentina.
In London, Jose Mourinho's Chelsea 2.0 is still looking a little light up front. Fernando Torres looks a saggy imposter. Demba Ba scored one league goal for them last season. Romelu Lukaku could come good but Jose likes a bit of experience. He likes Zlatan too after coaching him at Inter.
Both City and Chelsea will be fighting for the Premier League title next season; strong favourites ahead of Manchester United. Both will go deep in the Champions League. They provide the conditions that a player like Zlatan thrives upon and deserves.
So make it happen Zlatan. Go to England, score goals, win another league title and shut the doubters up once and for all.