Zlatan: “I don’t need the Ballon d’Or to know I’m the best”

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This will only fuel those reluctant to acknowledge what Zlatan Ibrahimovic does on the field, but after yesterday’s UEFA Champions League match, the Paris Saint-German star didn’t hold back when asked about this year’s Ballon d’Or. With Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo,and Frank Ribéry favorites for men’s soccer’s highest honor, Ibrahimovic knows he won’t win the award. But according to the Swede, his standing in the eyes of awards voters doesn’t influence how he fells about his game.

“I don’t need the Ballon d’Or to know I’m the best,” the ever-confident striker said yesterday, having scored the opening goal of his team’s 2-1 Wednesday win over visiting Olympiacos. The victory put the defending Ligue 1 champions into Champions League’s knockout round, with Ibrahimovic scoring his competition-leading eighth goal of the tournament.

Given his name’s been missing from the Ballon d’Or discussion, Ibrahimovic’s claim is unlikely to be a popular one. The general feeling is that three players are competing for this year’s award: Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Franck Ribéry. If Ibrahimovic really is the world’s best, odds are some extra-competitive factors are influencing how he’s perceived.

And of course, there are. The type of brashness that “Ibra” shows leads him to be thought of as an arrogant, self-centered player. While that may very well be true, those terms are often used a prejoratives, people confounding those qualities with an unwillingness to help a team. As Ibrahimovic’s title record shows, his teams seemed to be helped by his arrogance. Over the last 11 seasons, Ibra’s clubs have won 10 titles across five different leagues, the Swede almost always serving as the focal point of his teams’ attacks.

Isn’t it possible that arrogance, confidence, or an undo level of self-believe could be a positive on a soccer field? Leading you to strive for levels others dare not achieve, like a 30-yard bicycle kick in a high-level international friendly?

And isn’t it possible that ambition is actually a good thing? That our want to see such attitudes as inherently negative obscures the possibility that, on the rare occasion that pride matches production, arrogance can help a team?

As people compared Cristiano Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic during the recent UEFA World Cup Qualifying playoffs, there seemed to finally be the willingness to look beyond Ibra’s reputation and recognize what he brings to a team. Despite years of media accounts (particularly, English media accounts) trying to tear him down, Ibrahimovic has taken his rightful place amongst the world’s best. W’ve acknowledged you can be brash off the field and great on it.

Does that mean Ibrahimovic is right when he calls himself the best in the world? No, even if his honesty is refreshing. If you were to dose Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo with truth serum, you’d probably get the same answers. It’s hard to compete to be the world’s best player without that kind of attitude, even though Messi and Ronaldo have public faces which obscure their confidence. Ibrahimovic bizarrely gets punished for forgoing the facade.

But he’s no Lionel Messi. Nobody is, right now. As polished and ruthless as Ronaldo can be, not even the Real Madrid star can claim to be a healthy Messi’s equal.

Why Frank Ribéry is in theBallon d’Or discussion over Ibrahimovic, well, we touched on that earlier. Ibrahimovic can claim to be one of the world’s top three players, but sometimes, team factors can poison what’s supposed to be an individual award.

Transfer rumor roundup: Van Dijk to Chelsea, Ox to Anfield

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More and more players are being linked with Manchester United, but — believe it or not — the Red Devils aren’t the only club seeking talent.

DiMarzio is reporting that Antonio Conte is close to securing the services of Southampton center back Virgil Van Dijk, insisting the Dutch back is Conte’s top choice ahead of Juventus power house Leonardo Bonucci (which isn’t to say there isn’t room for both). The price? An eyebrow-raising $77 million.

[ MORE: Confederations Cup scenarios ]

Meanwhile, Conte is selling talented Bertrand Traore outside the Premier League. A solid season on loan at Ajax upped interest in the 21-year-old striker, and L’Equipe says it’s a $22 million move to Lyon for Traore.

How much do you think Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is worth? Liverpool may think his value is as high as $32 million, as The Independent reports that Arsenal is prepared to sell the Southampton Academy product to the attacker-heavy Reds.

Meanwhile, Serge Gnabry‘s wild journey looks to have another stop despite a purchase from Bayern Munich this summer. Gnabry was one of Germany’s heroes at the Olympics and left Arsenal for Werder Bremen last summer. He thrived, and earned a deal to Bayern, but Kicker brings quotes from a Hoffenheim player that are hopeful of a loan for this season.

Messi offers to pay $558,000 to avoid 21-month jail sentence

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Lionel Messi has offered to pay an additional fine of 500,000 euros ($558,000) to ensure he avoids a 21-month prison sentence for tax fraud that a judge is expected to suspend, a Spanish state prosecutor said Friday.

State prosecutor Isabel Lopez Riera told The Associated Press the fine-for-time deal was presented by Messi’s lawyers to the judge who will rule on whether to suspend Messi’s sentence – as is widely expected. Lopez Riera said she has told the judge that her office is not opposed to the deal.

[ MORE: Fabinho has interest in Man Utd ]

Lopez Riera said Messi’s lawyers have made a similar offer for the Barcelona player’s father, Jorge Horacio Messi. He is offering to pay 360,000 euros ($402,000) to avoid his 15-month sentence for helping his son cheat on his taxes.

In Spain, prison sentences under 24 months for first-time offenders can be suspended by a judge.

The government attorney representing Spain’s Tax Office in the case will also be able to weigh in on the proposed deal. As state prosecutor, Lopez Riera is impartial in the case as a defender of the public interest.

Last year, a court in Barcelona found Messi and his father each guilty of three counts of defrauding tax authorities of 4.1 million euros ($4.6 million) from 2007-09. The unpaid taxes were from money made through endorsement deals, not Messi’s salary paid by Barcelona.

Messi was fined 2 million euros and his father 1.5 million euros. Both were originally sentenced to 21 months, but his father’s sentence was later reduced to 15 months.

In the last two weeks, Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo and former Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho have been accused by a Madrid-based state prosecutor of having defrauded Spain’s Tax Office of millions of euros (dollars) in unpaid taxes.

Both have denied wrongdoing.

WATCH: Pair of inspiring Academy videos from Men In Blazers

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Men In Blazers produced a pair of videos on two teens from rival academies that should give all young players a sense of gratitude and inspiration for their chances in American soccer.

New York City FC Academy center back Prince Amponsah and New York Red Bulls Academy destroyer Amadeo Chapru-Tate get the mini-doc treatment from Roger Bennett.

Amponsah comes from Ghana, and his family moved to the United States where their son found his way to the youth national team.

[ MORE: Fabinho has interest in Man Utd ]

Chapru-Tate comes from Haiti, adopted by his parents after a three-year process. His first game saw him score an own goal, but that was not a sign of what’s to come for the 15-year-old.

Confederations Cup: Scenarios before final group matches

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Seven of eight nations remain alive for the knockout rounds after two-thirds of the group stage at the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia.

Only New Zealand has been eliminated, though the underdogs aren’t the sort of nations who will quit ahead of its group finale against Portugal.

That’s one of two Saturday matches, along with Russia versus Mexico, with two more on the docket for Sunday when Germany meets Cameroon and Chile duels with Australia.

[ MORE: Fabinho has interest in Man Utd ]

We’ve seen zany finishes at the Confederations Cup before, as the U.S. beat Egypt 3-0 and Brazil topped Italy 3-0 on the final day of group play in 2009 to send the Americans past Italy and into the knockout rounds despite a tournament-opening 3-1 loss to the Italians.

Group A

Draws will be enough to send Mexico and Portugal into the knockout rounds, with Mexico currently leading the group by virtue of a single goal scored (The two sides drew 2-2 in the opener).

We mentioned New Zealand’s status as a wild card, but hosts Russia will be under immense pressure against Mexico. The cynic will note that the tournament’s location could help the Russians beyond simple home-field advantage, while a bigger cynic may not that Mexico has been the beneficiary of plenty of officials’ whistles and non-whistles in recent years.

The safe bet is Portugal to win and Mexico to advance via draw or win.

Group B

No one’s safe, but Chile is feeling very good about its chances coming into Sunday’s match against Australia in Moscow. The Chileans battered Australia at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and a draw would give them a place in the next round.

The Socceroos need a two-goal win to pass Chile and assure a spot in the next round. A one-goal win could also do the trick for Australia if Germany loses and Australia outscores the Germans (who currently hold a one-goal advantage).

Germany knows it’s result-and-in for them, while Cameroon faces the longest odds. Not only do the Africans need to upset the Germans, but they need a two-goal win and help. If Cameroon won by one, it would fail to pass Germany.