Albin Ekdal has opened a war of words with former Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, claiming the veteran was a detrimental influence on the national team.
Now 38, the centre forward is starring with Milan in Serie A as they fight for a European spot next season, after he retired from international duty in 2016, having won 116 caps and scored 62 goals – a record for his nation.
While Ibrahimovic’s statistics look formidable, Ekdal has claimed that the presence of the former Juventus, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain striker did not allow others to reach their maximum potential.
“Many players couldn’t handle his gesturing and sharp comments which shot holes in the confidence of some players. I’ve seen that many times, and it seldom benefits the team,” 30-year-old Ekdal told Sverige Radio program ‘Sommar & Vinter i P1’.
“Probably many people couldn’t handle his massive winning mentality and temperament which he has, despite everything which has taken him to the best clubs in the world and made him Sweden’s best player of all time.”
Ekdal gave an example of the contrasting spirit in the camp for Euro 2016, which was Ibrahimovic’s swansong, and World Cup 2018.
“We were a team made up of one star and a few team-mates in 2016 but we travelled to the World Cup in 2018 in Russia two years later. The entire team was players who were making their debut at the World Cup," he said.
“Zlatan was the big star. He was the one who was supposed to do it, lead Sweden through thick and thin. National team manager Erik Hamren had given him the baton and made him the captain, and the rest of us were supposed to put our trust in him.
“Our team consisted of one superstar and 10 decent players around him helping him to dominate. That idea didn’t pan out.”
Ekdal could suffer a backlash on Wednesday, when his Sampdoria side play host to in-form Milan in Serie A, but first they will aim to stop Juventus securing the league title when they travel to Turin on Sunday.
Ibrahimovic’s Milan, meanwhile, are undefeated since the restart, with the Swede scoring seven in 16 Serie A outings since arriving as a free agent from LA Galaxy on January 1.