'A player like Zlatan Ibrahimovic should be there at the World Cup'
Wilhelmsson, capped 80 times by Sweden, said that if Ibrahimovic did come back, he would have to adapt and fit in to the team's new philosophy
A World Cup without me is not worth watching, Zlatan Ibrahimovic famously said, back in 2013, after his Sweden lost to Portugal and failed to qualify for the showpiece in Brazil.
The irony of it all now is that the Swedes will be going to the World Cup in Russia, at the expense of former champions Italy, while Ibrahimovic will most probably be watching it on television. Ibra, Sweden's all-time leading goalscorer, called time on his international career after a disappointing Euro 2016.
But now, after Sweden pulled off a heist right from under the Italians' noses, the prospect of the 36-year-old making an about turn on his retirement and figuring in Russia, is gathering speed. The former FC Barcelona, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain ace posted on social media: "We are Zweden."
And most of the post-match questions to coach Janne Andersson, after the Italy game, centred around the injured Manchester United striker. Ibrahimovic's possible return from a knee injury at the end of this month has also helped in stoking the fire.
Quite naturally, opinion has been divided on world football's temperamental 'bad boy' and his probable return to the team. Some have said Sweden have moved on from being a one-man band and it is about the team and not about one individual.
Ibrahimovic's former teammate Christian Wilhelmsson gave an objective spin to the whole thing.
"That's a very hard question," Wilhelmsson said when asked if Ibrahimovic should be allowed to return to the team.
Wilhelmsson spoke to reporters on the sidelines of the Dubai Sports Council Championship for Football Academies season 2 launch at the Dubai Design District on Wednesday
"He is so big of a star with so much quality, so, if he's fit and he feels like he can contribute, he has to be in the World Cup. And also, for the World Cup itself, a player like Zlatan should be there. But, the team and the players who made it there, they should be given a lot of respect and also a lot of gratitude for what they have done," added the former Anderlecht winger.
Wilhelmsson, capped 80 times by Sweden, said that if Ibrahimovic did come back, he would have to adapt and fit in to the team's new philosophy.
"They might need stars but the stars have to work with the group here, not the group for the star. We will see how it goes and we will see how he goes. Everyone knows what he can do on a football pitch," he said.
Wilhelmsson also said that it would be unfair to just talk about Ibrahimovic. "I think it is fair to talk about the team who just made it. They worked very, very hard. They had Holland and France in the group and they won against France. The fight they came up with to make it, they should have all the credit now. Later on, when it is getting close to the World Cup, then we can start to see the set-up, the team that participates. But now, I would rather talk about how good is the team who made it, who they are and what they did," said the 37-year-old.
This will be Sweden's 12th appearance at a World Cup with their best showing being a runners-up finish in 1958. They finished third in 1950 and 1994 and fourth in 1938. Wilhelmsson believed that anything is possible this time.
"From what I've seen from the group stage, anything is possible with this team because they work so much for each other, they are so unified as a group and I believe that anything can happen. If they are fit and there are not too many injuries, anything is possible. We will not play the most beautiful football for sure but we can have good results. I believe that," he said.
"If they stay fit and they keep the same team, I believe anything can happen. I'm sure they will make it through the group and after that, everything depends on the day. But I believe that they have a big chance. They will not be the team who plays the most beautiful football, but for sure, they will work the hardest," added Wilhelmsson.
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