As Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s introductory press conference drew to a close inside the Parc des Princes auditorium, Paris Saint-Germain marketing director Michel Mimran quietly slipped out of a door at the back of the room.
Dressed in a dark grey suit and an open-necked white shirt, he left the stadium and hopped on the back of a black moped driven by his assistant, Jose Moury. It was a hot July afternoon in western Paris, and within minutes the pair were speeding down Avenue Georges-Mandel in the shade cast by the horse-chestnut trees that flank the road. Out of all the people involved in Ibrahimovic’s unveiling as a PSG player, they were among the few who knew what was coming next.
A spectacularly talented serial trophy-winner with an ego to match, Ibrahimovic was the first superstar signing of PSG’s new era, which had begun the previous year when the club was bought by Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund. PSG had signed several new players that first summer, most notably Argentinian playmaker Javier Pastore, but none of them were on the same level as Ibrahimovic. In any case, the stardust had been quickly blown away when newly rich PSG were pipped to the French title by modest Montpellier.
Ibrahimovic signed for PSG in July 2012, following closely in the footsteps of his former AC Milan team-mate Thiago Silva, and his new owners wanted to mark his arrival in style. The day before his official presentation, it was decided that after the press conference at the Parc des Princes he would be taken for an improvised photoshoot in front of the Eiffel Tower before continuing on to the Champs-Elysees for a signing session at the club shop. It was all part of a desire to strengthen PSG’s association with the city of Paris, which was a central element of the new owners’ branding strategy.
PSG had not informed the local authorities of their plans to take their new recruit to see the Eiffel Tower. They deliberately kept fans in the dark to prevent an unmanageable crowd from forming, and the photographers who had attended the press conference were not told what was happening until the last minute.
Less than 10 minutes after leaving the Parc des Princes, Mimran arrived at the Place du Trocadero, an elevated esplanade that overlooks the Eiffel Tower. He quickly walked through where Ibrahimovic would be asked to stand and then used a piece of chalk to mark out the photographer positions on the ground.
As journalists, photographers, club officials and a handful of security personnel wearing black suits and sunglasses assembled on the esplanade, the tourists who had been merrily taking souvenir snaps of the Eiffel Tower began to realise that something was up.
By the time Ibrahimovic arrived, wearing blue jeans and a crisp white shirt, he had to be steered through an excited crowd of a few hundred people. Beneath a blue sky strafed by wispy cirrus clouds, he posed for photographs holding a PSG shirt, performed a few keepy-uppies and then returned to the black Mercedes-Benz Viano people carrier from which he had alighted moments earlier, with chants of “Ibra! Ibra!” and “Merci Zlatan!” ringing in his ears.
“That image of Zlatan in front of the Eiffel Tower is one that people always go back to,” Mimran tells Bleacher Report. “But of all the things that took place that day, it was the one that had the least preparation.”
The PSG convoy carried on to the Champs-Elysees. Mimran joined PSG general manager Jean-Claude Blanc and sporting director Leonardo in one car, with Ibrahimovic and his agent, Mino Raiola, following in the car behind. By the time they arrived at the top of the world-famous shopping street, so many fans had gathered outside the PSG boutique that it was impossible for traffic to pass down one side of the road.
Police on motorbikes halted the traffic to allow the PSG cars to drive down the wrong lane, and Ibrahimovic was able to dart inside the shop and sign a few shirts before wrestling his way back through the jubilant throng of supporters outside and into the car. With fans chanting and brandishing flares, it was a chaotic scene, but PSG’s directors were thrilled.
“Usually you can only go the wrong way down the Champs-Elysees in the Tour de France,” says Mimran. “I was in the car with Leonardo and Jean-Claude Blanc, and Leonardo told me, ‘You’ve organised the most beautiful mess I could ever have dreamed of. It’s exactly what I wanted.’ It was a crazy afternoon. The disorganisation made the magic that day. We never presented a player like that again.” Continue reading…