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Zlatan Ibrahimovic says male and female footballers are in totally different leagues. Photo: Frank Augstein/TT
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Sweden's men's national team captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the women's national football team coach Pia Sundhage. Photo: TT/Collage: Swedish Radio

Female footballers strike back at Zlatan

Swedish star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic caused a stir after getting involved in a heated debate about how Sweden treats its male and female football players. Reacting to his comments, Pia Sundhage, the coach of the Swedish women's national football team, told Swedish Television it was "sad and unfortunate for Swedish football."

In a long interview with the tabloid Expressen, published on Christmas Day, Ibrahimovic said it is not possible to compare the achievements of male and female players.

The Swedish men's national team captain's comments come off the back of a the so-called "car affair" last month when footballer Anders Svensson was celebrated at the Swedish Football Gala for having played a record 146 international matches. It was announced that Svensson would receive a car. Female footballer Therese Sjögran, however, was not promised a car, though she holds a record for having played 187 international matches. Some suggested this was unfair and offensive.

In an interview at the time, Ibrahimovic said Sjögran should also get a car, but in Wednesday's Expressen interview, he took a harsher tone, saying: "In Europe, they compare me with Messi and Ronaldo. Here at home I get compared with female players. Should I have to be ashamed of being a Swedish football player?"

Ibrahimovic continued: "How the hell can you compare a woman's achievement with a man's achievement on an individual level? It's impossible! Should we compare men's economy with women's economy?"

Ibrahimovic also claimed that no other country pays as much attention to women's football as Sweden and he said that the debate around the "car affair" has taken the focus away from Svensson's achievements.

"Celebrate him instead for this record and because he is one of the few players we have who has reached this level," said Ibrahimovic. "It's better to stick to that line instead of devaluing him by comparing him with the ladies' individual achievements. They can get a bike with my autograph on it and then we're good."

Sundhage said Ibrahimovic's comments point to "failings in the basic values of male football". His statements also caused a stir on social media, with midfielder Nilla Fischer tweeting that is was among the most stupid things she's read and Swedish Television's sports expert Frida Östberg wondering why Zlatan should be ashamed of being compared with female players like Lotta Schelin or Therese Sjögran.

Sjögran herself told newspaper Sydsvenskan that Ibrahimovic has "denigrated our sport and women in general". She said: "I understand him when he says that the men's national team brings in more money and exposure. That's true. But this is about respect. We're doing the same thing, and that's football. But then you shouldn't compare men's and women's football. That's impossible."

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