Donall Farmer/INPHO

A legend getting better and better - but Zlatan paints picture of a star who puts team first

Sweden’s superstar captain ready to embrace the pressure as Ireland await.

– Niall Kelly reports from the Stade de France, Saint-Denis

IT TAKES A special kind of confidence to command a room so effortlessly.

But of all the many accusations you might level at Zlatan Ibrahimovic, lacking confidence isn’t one that would stick.

The mercurial Swedish superstar arrived at the Stade de France on Sunday afternoon, speculation on his club future still swirling, the chance to make history as the first player to score at four European Championships in his sights.

Showing no signs of slowing at the age of 34, he is — to use his own modest appraisal  – a legend getting better and better.

Sweden boss Erik Hamren sat next to him, a willing non-participant in the Zlatan show, as Ibrahimovic explained how he courts more pressure, invites more responsibility, in the hope that it will release his team-mates and give them the freedom to thrive.

Since Hamren took charge in 2009, this Swedish side has flattered to deceive despite its talent. Last in their group at Euro 2012 with just one win, they then lost out in the qualifying play-offs for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. A nation expects better in this, Hamren’s final tournament.

But for Zlatan, there is no pressure to perform or to make this tournament his own. He just goes out and does it.

“I’ve been dominating wherever I go,” he said. “I have no issue about that.

“I feel very confident. I go into this tournament with a strong season behind me. I feel strong, mentally very strong.

Wherever I go, I enjoy, and I’ve been dominating wherever I go. No worries.

His mind firmly on international matters, Ibrahimovic brushed past the only question about a possible €15 million-a-year move to join Manchester United.

Speculation has been rife since the soundbite superstar announced his decision to leave Paris Saint-Germain, penning his own epilogue with the inimitable declaration that “I came like a king, left like a legend.”

Asked what he can still add to an already glittering legacy which includes a La Liga title, two Eredivisie crowns, and four apiece in Serie A and Ligue 1, Zlatan promised that he is not finished yet.

“The legend can still deliver.”

And he explained: “I feel like I’m getting better and better with every year that passes.

“What I do day in and day out is play football, and I feel really good. It’s all about developing and learning new things and not being satisfied.

You’ve got to have the hunger to become a better player. That’s when I feel I’ve accomplished something, when I learn new things and I demand of myself that I will work hard on the pitch and practice and not just sit down and do nothing. If you want it, you’re able to do it.

“I know what I want, and I know I’m going to do it, simple as that.”

Sitting next to arguably his country’s most famous face, Hamren barely managed to get a word in during the 20 minutes of the pre-match press conference.

But if this sometimes feels like a one-man show, Zlatan hopes that he can turn that to the team’s benefit and be a lightning rod for the pressure that Sweden will carry over the next 10 days.

Six of this squad were part of the Swedish side which won the U21 European Championship last summer, leaving Zlatan to play the role of the imperious elder statesman.

“To become a leader is not something you choose, it’s something you grow into. I’ve had this role for the past few years. It has made me a lot better as a player, stronger mentally, both on and off the pitch. I’m comfortable with that.

You become the best by having team-mates around you who make you the best. If the collective succeeds, then you succeed. It is that simple.

He added: “There are many new players in the Swedish squad. We always have pressure and probably I have greatest pressure on my shoulders.

“I want to take the pressure off the team. I’m used to it.

I want to take the pressure off my team-mates as much as possible. I want them to enjoy it, to go out and play and enjoy it, that’s the only thing you can do.

“There’s no greater honour than playing a European Championship with your country. I’m sure all players will give 200% on the pitch.”

“It would be great but individual objectives for me are always second because the collective is more important,” he adds before departing, his shot at history on the horizon.

“The most important thing is that the team goes good. Whatever I do after that is a bonus for me.”

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Zlatan: ‘The Ireland defenders lack pace? I’m also slow so it doesn’t matter’

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