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Column: Zlataned! How megastar became French verb

Wednesday - 11/7/2012, 4:13pm  ET

By JOHN LEICESTER
AP Sports Columnist

PARIS (AP) - Je Zlatan, tu Zlatan, il Zlatan. Chalk up another first for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the only footballer to have his own verb in French, the language of Moliere.

The 17th century playwright would doubtless have been shocked and horrified. Perhaps as shocked and horrified as some French were to learn, depending on which newspaper they read, that Paris Saint-Germain lured its star to France from Italy this summer with an after-tax salary of anywhere between 9 million and 14 million euros per year ($11.5 million to $18 million) _ unheard of in the French league and politically incorrect in the middle of biting economic crisis.

Still, it is possible to be both revolted and fascinated at the same time. The French are learning that from Ibrahimovic, too. One French television show plays the Darth Vader theme music when it reports on Ibrahimovic, reinforcing the idea that he's scary, powerful and can bring entire galaxies _ sorry, I meant opposing teams _ to their knees. The popular comedy show Les Guignols de l'Info now also regularly features an Ibrahimovic puppet, a dubious honor it tends to inflict on presidents, politicians and pop culture stars. It goes without saying that the latex Ibrahimovic, like the man, adores himself. In one sketch, the puppet touts a cologne, Eau de Zlatan, "made from concentrated Zlatan sweat. "

"If you Zlatan yourself with Eau de Zlatan everyone will respect you. You'll no longer need to queue at the post office."

All of which tells us two things. One is that Ibrahimovic, from a troubled immigrant neighborhood in Malmo, Sweden, with a Croatian mother and Bosnian father, makes an impression wherever he goes, both with his football skills and me-first personality. The other is that French club football needed a character like him for people to start paying attention. Separately, neither of those things are news. It is no secret that France has the weakest of Europe's top five leagues. And Ibrahimovic's talents have long made him one of football's hottest properties. However, combine them together and the result is proving very interesting: A very big fish making massive waves, in part because he has chosen to swim in a smaller pond.

Aside from his prince's salary, playing in a league with fewer globally recognized stars than Italy and Spain, Ibrahimovic's previous homes before France, means more attention for him, fewer rivals for his limelight.

"I don't know a lot about French players," he noted when he joined PSG in July. "For sure, they know who I am."

It's not hard to find people who aren't fussed about French club football. The average attendance this season is 18,800 per game, rising to 42,800 for PSG. But many French have now heard of Ibrahimovic. It's impossible not to, given the French media's love-fest with Zlatan this and Zlatan that.

For everyone from buttoned-up daily Le Monde to http://www.zlatanfacts.fr, a satirical website listing his supposedly superhuman attributes ("Lance Armstrong never dared inject himself with blood of Zlatan. His body couldn't have coped with it"), Ibrahimovic is a 95-kilogram, 1-meter-95 (210-pound, 6-foot-4) bandwagon.

After PSG's 2-1 defeat last Saturday to Saint-Etienne, its first Ligue 1 loss this season, sports daily L'Equipe headlined: "Les Verts Zlatanent Paris" (The Greens Zlatan Paris). "Zlataner," to Zlatan. The verb, still hot from the oven of someone's fertile imagination, seems to be taking on the meaning of to dominate, to overpower, to subdue, to have one's way.

Which, to be fair, Ibrahimovic has so far lived up to. With 10 goals in 10 matches, he is Ligue 1's leading scorer and PSG the league leader, equal on 22 points with second-placed Marseille but having played a game more. Ibrahimovic's two-match suspension for karate-kicking _ unintentionally, he insists _ Saint-Etienne `keeper Stephane Ruffier will be an interesting study in how PSG fares without him. Even when Ibrahimovic seems not to be trying, he still makes a difference.

Against Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League on Tuesday, he wandered slowly around the pitch like a man drained of energy by spending too long in a sauna. He looked bored at times.

But part of Ibrahimovic's art is being in the right place at the right time. He set up PSG's opening goal by Alex and a second by Blaise Matuidi, gifting a joyfully timed pass between three Dinamo defenders for PSG's midfielder to run onto and fire into goal. Both the stadium announcer and tournament organizer UEFA generously declared that Ibrahimovic set up Paris' two other goals, too, even though that wasn't strictly true.

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