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By Gregory Caltabanis (@GCaltabanis)

Every aspiring sports journalist will always remember the first game they covered. I was lucky enough to have Zlatan Ibrahimovic feature in mine, in what was a weekend I’ll never forget. One week away from my 19th birthday, I got the confirmation: I was going to cover the French SuperCup between PSG and Lyon in Montreal. With Ibrahimovic, Verratti and Thiago Silva rolling into town, I could barely contain my excitement. While PSG won the game easily, I will always remember that night as the night Ibra “rejoined” Milan.

Dressed in my sharpest dress shirt with my notepad and recorder in hand, I boarded the bus and was on my way to Centre Nutrilait, where PSG would be training. It was the day before the game. Trying to fit in despite not knowing the routine, I stumbled my way into the training centre and began playing the part of a journalist. And it was then that Ibra finally walked out. As I was talking to a colleague, out came the big Swede with a huge grin on his face. Everyone immediately stopped what they were doing and fixed their gaze on his 6’5 frame. It was like a scene out of a classic mobster movie. Zlatan, looking almost completely oblivious to what was transpiring around him, quietly made his way to the training ground without uttering a word.

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Above, sitting in the stands during PSG’s training session, enjoying some typical Ibra tekkers

During practice, it was everything you’d expect from a legend of the game like Ibra: some wonderful, effortlessly scored, goals, flicks and of course, some lighthearted fun. After practice, the Swede made his way off the field, again without saying a word to anyone, and disappeared into the locker room. In a time where he was constantly being linked with a move away, his calculated silence spoke volumes, to the eyes of the keenest observers. With some scribbled notes in hand and a few sound-bites, I was off home.

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Above, my first ever ‘press’ badge, for the PSG-Lyon game

On the day of the game, I followed the same routine. Dress shirt, check. Notepad, check. Recorder, check. I was ready to cover my first game. Before the game started, it was almost like everyone knew how it was going to end. After just 20 minutes, PSG were comfortably ahead by two and were well on their way to victory. When the final whistle blew and Thiago Silva lifted the SuperCup in front of the Montreal faithful, the attention quickly shifted from the game to Zlatan.

Italian journalist Alfredo Pedullà then reported directly after the game that Milan had reached an agreement with Zlatan and he would return to Italy later that week. Like clockwork, reports from all over Italy were saying that the Big Swede spoke to a journalist in Montreal and told him he played his last game for PSG, confirming Pedullà’s speculation. The reality? Being there, I knew all too well that Ibra hadn’t even exited the locker room yet, let alone told a journalist he was heading to Milan. As the reports intensified, the media grew restless waiting for Ibra in the scrum area. Was he staying? Or was he really re-joining Milan?

And like it had happened the day before, Ibra emerged and all eyes pointed to him. Professional journalists flat-out stopped interviewing other players to run to the striker. Like he did the day before, Ibra, with his head held high, confident as ever, walked out the door without uttering a word. One journalist persisted behind him but Zlatan didn’t take it well. The 35-year-old angrily turned around and pointed to an area behind him, indicating that he desired to be left alone. When the door shut behind him, normal service resumed but the pressroom emptied at an alarming rate. It was as if they were there to see Ibra and nothing else.

Once there were only two other journalists left in the pressroom and all the PSG players boarded the team bus, I decided to call it a day and head home. Much to my confusion, journalists in Italy continued running with the ‘Ibra to Milan’ story, despite the total absence of concrete evidence to back it up. Two weeks later, Ibra cleared up his future. He was staying with PSG for another year. Big surprise, that was. And just like that, a soon-to-be 19-year-old from Montreal got a glimpse into the world of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and what he was all about. The best birthday present I could have asked for.

Gregory is a talented Columnist and Editor for Italian Football Daily.  

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