In a sport that can be increasingly characterised by the stultifying uniformity of its players' media appearances, we must be thankful for the existence of jokers like Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swede, who finalised a move to Paris Saint-Germain this week, has never been reticent about his sense of self-worth, but his opening gambit to the French media was particularly punchy: "It's true I don't know that much about Ligue 1, but Ligue 1 knows who I am."
Let that sink in for a moment.
Try to imagine an English player - even one with an ego as large and indestructible as a tectonic plate (coughJohnTerrycoughcough) - making a statement like that upon joining a club. It's difficult, isn't it? While the photoshopped, focus-grouped platitudes issued by professional players have long been the object of disdain, precious few are willing to step away from the party line to actually tell things as they see them.
Even then, though, very few footballers see things as Zlatan Ibrahimovic sees things. He projects an unerring sporting solipsism, according to which other people may actually exist but certainly don't matter. In his eyes, he is the pony-tailed sun around which football's galaxy revolves.
Or at least that's what he wants you to think. Zlatan quite clearly has an ego - entirely understandable, given his ability and the size of his trophy cabinet - but this isn't what marks him out. Ibra's quotes contain a certain self-awareness; one gets the impression that he revels in the persona that he portrays to the outside world.
Case in point: his autobiography Jag Är Zlatan (I Am Zlatan), which bears all the hallmarks of I, Partridge-esque parody. The knockout lines flow thick and fast. "Then Guardiola started his philosopher thing. I was barely listening. Why would I? It was advanced bullshit about blood, sweat and tears, that kind of stuff.” YES, IBRA! DOWN WITH COD PSYCHOLOGY! “An injured Zlatan is a pretty serious thing for any team.” NICE POSSIBLY IRONIC USE OF THE THIRD PERSON!
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is not just an amazing footballer. He is also the author of football's most ingenious metacritique, offering up quotable nuggets to an audience so exclusively weaned on Michael-Owen-media-training interviews that they gulp them down without even questioning their genesis. One day, people will look back and laugh at how stupid we all were, and salute Zlatan as a prophet of post-modernism.
We don't know that much about Zlatan, but Zlatan knows EXACTLY who (and what) we are.