It can be difficult to tell when Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho is being genuine and when he is saying things with an ulterior motive in mind: almost always because he wants to give his side an advantage, whether it be in a forthcoming fixture, cup competition or title race.
Prior to this evening’s Champions League fixture against Paris Saint-Germain - Chelsea’s biggest match of the season so far - Mourinho has used his time with the press to speak out about his next opponent’s brightest star, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Mourinho and Zlatan have an excellent relationship, stemming back to their time working together at Inter Milan, and it seems the Chelsea boss has attempted to kill his friend with kindness ahead of tonight’s crucial match at Stamford Bridge.
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Mourinho having a sly pop at his old friend?
"Zlatan is an amazing player, no doubts about it,” the Chelsea manager was quoted as saying by the London Evening Standard. “It's so strange people forget him when speaking about the best players in the world, but he is one of them."
Mourinho is the master of the reverse-dig - pretending to pay a compliment, but lacing his words in a way that makes you think he might actually be having a sly pop (it happens all the time with Arsene Wenger) - and he’s done precisely that here.
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The public are now Zlatan admirers
The Portuguese coach has no reason to say that people don’t speak about Ibrahimovic as being one of the world’s best players because it’s simply not true.
Perhaps it was up until Euro 2012 - when many people, particularly those based in England, had Zlatan down as an overrated big-game bottler - but since then he has earned the respect he so richly deserves.
Does Mourinho expect Zlatan to be talked about in the same breath as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo? If he does then his expectations are unrealistic; unlike those two extra-terrestrials, Zlatan is human.
Ibrahimovic is widely considered to be on the next rung down from that untouchable level featuring the likes of Luis Suarez, Neymar, Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard and the like.
Ibra beginning to slowly decline
But is Zlatan still at that level? The 6ft 5in forward is starting to slow down a little now, which is no surprise considering he turns 34 in October, and is unlikely to equal last season’s incredible goalscoring exploits before he retires in a few years’ time.
Ibra has the perfect opportunity to show the world that he deserves to still be recognised as one of the world’s elite players this evening - but his record against sides managed by Mourinho is pitiful for a player of his calibre.
Mourinho could regret his disingenuous comments
In seven appearances the Sweden international has failed to score a single goal or contribute an assist - and in order for PSG to advance to the Champions League quarter-finals this evening, one suspects that dismal record will need to change.
Ibrahimovic has a whole host of winners’ medals from multiple countries, but the Champions League is the one title that still eludes him after all these years.
This could be one of his final opportunities to land his hands on club football’s most prestigious trophy - and if he does end up lifting it at the Olympiastadion in Berlin on June 6, Mourinho will end up regretting these latest disingenuous comments.
Is Zlatan Ibrahimovic still one of the world’s best players? Have your say in the comments below!
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