Ibra's return leaves fans conflicted

MALMO (Sweden) • As Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic returns to his home town today, some Malmo fans are torn over whether to support the city's prodigal son or the team who launched his career.

On a football pitch in the immigrant-heavy neighbourhood of Rosengard, where the 34-year-old Swede grew up, one of his childhood team-mates sighed as he pondered where his sympathies would lie during the Champions League match between Malmo and PSG.

"Both, both. Maybe, for Malmo, a little bit more," Ivan Milosevic said, before laughing and adding: "I'm a 'Malmoitian'," referring to a term for the city's inhabitants.

Born the same year, both players began their careers at FBK Balkan, a local club founded by immigrants from the former Yugoslavia in 1962. The club say that that makes them the oldest immigrant football team in Europe.

"He was a funny character, constantly up to a lot of mischief. Nicked bicycles, came with it to practice, always had a ball, bantered with others in the team," Milosevic said. "He ran around and didn't listen to the coaches.

"Did what he liked to do, dribbled when he was meant to pass."

FREE-SPIRITED

He ran around and didn't listen to the coaches. Did what he liked to do, dribbled when he was meant to pass.

IVAN MILOSEVIC, on Ibrahimovic, nicknamed 'Ibra', during their younger days

Almost 15 years after he left Malmo for Ajax, Ibrahimovic's maverick image remains intact.

He regularly courts controversy, ranging from his recent claim that he put France "on the world map" to an offer to donate a signed bicycle to female players after the Swedish FA rewarded a male player with a new Volvo.

In the troubled suburbs that dot Malmo's eastern half, support has never wavered and on the field his influence is clear.

"He's the big idol here, everyone looks up to him," said Milosevic.

Ibrahimovic joined Malmo FF in 1994, paving the way for other players from an immigrant background to do the same.

Preparations for today's game have been under way in Malmo from the moment it was announced that PSG would be coming to town.

"All of Malmo will be able to watch the game. I've booked the main square where the game will be broadcast live," Ibrahimovic wrote on Facebook in September.

PSG's 1-0 defeat at Real Madrid three weeks ago remains their only loss this season but a win today will take Laurent Blanc's side (seven points) to the last 16 of the Champions League.

A draw, or even a defeat, would suffice depending on the result in the other game in Ukraine, where Shakhtar Donetsk (three points) will have to beat Real (already through with 10 points).

Malmo (three points), whose domestic season ended last month, need to win to stay in contention.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2015, with the headline 'Ibra's return leaves fans conflicted'. Print Edition | Subscribe