After a long and hitherto distinguished career, Swedish footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic may be forced, finally, to hang up his boots.
Already pushing 40, Ibrahimovic, who has won 31 trophies with a string of top clubs, was poised to sign a one-year contract extension with his current team AC Milan.
But now, according to reports in Sweden’s leading Aftonbladet newspaper, he faces a three-year sporting ban because he’s a major shareholder in betting company Bethard, an iGaming group with Swedish roots that is headquartered in Malta.
FIFA and UEFA, the world and european football bodies, have banned active players from having financial interests in the betting industry.
But Aftonbladet claims that Ibrahimovic owns 10 percent of Bethard through his company, Unknown AB. In 2019 the group reported a profit of £25.79m (US$35.55m/€29.68m) after tax.
The storied sportsman–who has played for Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United, among other top teams–now faces a three-year ban, which would presumably end his career, precipitously if not prematurely.
His days of gracing international tournaments would appear to be over.
Sweden’s all-time leading scorer, with 62 international goals, Ibrahimovic last played for his country in a World Cup qualifier against Georgia in March.
Seemingly oblivious to the betting ban, the maverick striker declared himself an ambassador and co-owner of Bethard in 2018.
“I have obviously been intensively courted by betting companies throughout my career, but up until now I have not been presented to anything that has triggered me,” the world’s 14th richest soccer player, worth a reputed US$190m (£137.83/€158.63m), announced at the time.
“With Bethard, there was something different. It’s a company with Swedish roots, the founders are from my home town and they are true challengers who really want to do things differently.”
Meantime, Hakan Sjjstrand, general secretary of the Swedish Football Association, has responded: “According to FIFA’s regulations and code of ethics, no player may directly or indirectly own shares in betting companies.
“I do not speculate on possible sanctions. I stick to the facts and can only account for what applies to all nations and players who will participate in the World Cup.”
Bethard CEO Erik Sharp said: “These are questions that should be asked to FIFA. We have an agreement with Zlatan that we follow and if problems arise, we will handle it together with him.”
Ibrahimovic’s agent, the controversial Mino Raiola, remains uncharacteristically tight-lipped on his star client’s future.