Zlatan Ibrahimovics foul-mouthed rant against France after a defeat has drawn a wave of social media irony, also gaining the Swede a reprimand by the countrys sport minister.
The Paris Saint-Germain striker, renowned for his sky-high self-esteem, landed into trouble as he lost his temper following a 3-2 loss to Bordeaux in the French league.
In 15 years Ive never seen a [good] referee in this s**t country ... [they] dont even deserve PSG, he was heard saying, while walking towards the changing rooms after the match, in footage captured by TV channel Canal Plus.
The clip was posted online and soon went viral, drawing the attention of French Sport Minister Patrick Kanner, who urged the 33-year-old striker to apologise to referee Lionel Jaffredo and the whole of France for the national pride-hurting remark.
Ibrahimovics disappointment does not justify his offensive remarks towards the referee and the country hosting him. He will have to apologise, Kanner tweeted.
Less than an hour later, the forward issued an apology through PSGs website. I want to clarify that my words tonight were not directed against France or French people, he said. I was speaking purely in terms of football.
I lost the game, I accept that, but I cant accept it when the referee doesnt follow the rules. It is not the first time and Im tired of it. I would like to apologise if anybody was offended or interpreted my words the wrong way.
Kanner welcomed the clarification describing Ibrahimovic as a great champion in another tweet. But the outburst could still leave the striker on the end of a suspension, with Ibrahimovic recently returning from a two-match ban after quarrelling with an opponent.
Meanwhile, some French netizens were taking the mickey out of the controversy on Twitter, using the hashtag #Zlatangate. Some claimed to have torn up their membership card of Swedens furniture giant Ikea in retaliation.
Others posted a caricature by Le Monde cartoonist Plantu suggesting Ibrahimovics criticism of France could result in more votes for the nationalist Front National party at the upcoming local elections.
FN leader Marine Le Pen was swift in seizing the moment, telling France Info radio those who consider France a s*** county might as well leave it.
Meanwhile, others expressed gratitude to the striker saying thanks to the controversy, they were now aware France had a sport minister.