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Why is Zlatan Ibrahimovic not at the World Cup?

The Sweden striker missing the 2018 World Cup, explained.

Sweden v Belgium - Group E: UEFA Euro 2016 Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is Sweden’s most famous and certainly among its most successful soccer players ever, yet the 36-year-old striker is not on Sweden’s roster for the World Cup this summer, despite being productive in recent years for Manchester United and scoring plenty of goals for Los Angeles FC in MLS.

You may notice that he isn’t playing today against Mexico.

While Sweden’s FA has not released an official statement on why Ibrahimovic was left out of the side, there are plenty of theories as to why he’s not at this World Cup:

He already retired from international soccer

So this might seem like the obvious one, even if it really isn’t. Ibrahimovic retired from international soccer following the Euro 2016 tournament, saying he would just be playing club soccer and would no longer be competing for Sweden.

But no one really took his retirement all that seriously. This is like when LCD Soundsystem disbanded and played their final shows ever and then released an album a year later.

Even when Ibrahimovic stepped away, it was clear it was to take some time off from added responsibilities, and when the time came for the World Cup two years later, he expected a call. He’s openly said Sweden would be better off with him in the side at the World Cup, and they need him.

Still, he wasn’t called in.

His health isn’t up to par

In 2017, Ibrahimovic tore his ACL playing for Manchester United. At his age, one would think that sort of injury would be a career-ender, or at least a severely career-changing one, but Ibrahimovic is not built like most human beings. He recovered quickly, and has been playing plenty of minutes for Los Angeles Galaxy in MLS this season.

Though his fitness for a full World Cup, at least to some, was still in doubt.

Former Sweden striker Henrik Larsson pointed to Ibrahimovic’s health as a reason he was being left out of the side.

From The Standard:

“A fit Zlatan, the way he was before his injury, I think any coach in the world would bring him,” says Larsson, a Betfair ambassador. “But he is not that. There is no point talking about that. It is about the players who are there.

“He is the best player we ever had from Sweden so it is not strange the questions came up. But I think it is good now for the group that they can focus on the team and the squad.

“If you look back through history when Sweden succeed we need to be a collective. Everybody needs to read from the same page and then everything can happen at the World Cup.”

You can see the thinking: Ibrahimovic needs to be the star, and the team has to be built around him, and if he can’t play a full 90 minutes, perhaps Sweden would just prefer not to deal with the distraction.

Then again, 10 minutes of Zlatan in a game probably isn’t a bad thing.

The Swedish media is out to get him, according to him

This theory was espoused by Ibrahimovic himself, who argued that it was pundits in Sweden who pushed the national team to leave him out of its plans for the World Cup.


”All the best players are there. Zlatan is not there, so… He should be there, but he’s not there.

”The media says they [Sweden’s team] are better without me, so that’s why I believe in them.

”This is the Swedish media mentality. I don’t have a typical Swedish name. I’m not the typical Swedish attitude, behaviour and that, but still I have the [goal-scoring] record in the national team..

What’s the reality of the situation? Probably a healthy mix of all of these. While I doubt there’s a Swedish media controversy to keep Ibra out of the tournament, his age, his need for a team to be built around him, his injury history, coach Janne Andersson being concerned about Ibra’s ability to be a role player, and the media stuff all probably played a part. What is for certain is that the World Cup will be a little less fun without him there.