Ulf Karlsson, former leader of the Swedish athletics team, backtracked on comments he made on Tuesday at a panel debate organized by the Värmland Society of Sports History in Karlstad.
“Zlatan went up 10 kilos in six months at Juventus. I think he was doped. That's my opinion,” regional newspaper NWT quoted him as saying at the event.
His words grabbed global headlines after The Local first wrote about the controversial statement in English on Thursday. But on Friday Karlsson backtracked.
“During the debate I expressed myself both unclearly and unfortunately about Zlatan Ibrahimovic. I understand now, in retrospect, that what I said could be interpreted as pointing the finger and that is deeply regrettable. That was not my intention at all,” he wrote in a letter sent to the TT newswire.
“I therefore wish to apologize to Zlatan and others who may have taken offence at my insinuating statements,” he continued.
“I have, ever since I became a sports manager myself, always taken a stance against all forms of doping. I hope that my unfortunate choice of words in this case does not harm public perception of Zlatan, who I consider to be the greatest football player we have ever had in this country.”
Ibrahimovic, currently the star of France's Paris Saint-Germain, played for Juventus in Italy from 2004-2006. He has never tested positive for doping.
The footballer's agent Mino Raiola told the Expressen tabloid on Thursday afternoon that the player would take legal action.
“This man has made a big mistake. He is going to have had one life before this statement and another life after it. He is spreading falsehoods,” said Raiola.
“It is ridiculous. There are no facts there. We can prove it is not true. All clubs where Zlatan has been know that he doesn't even take aspirin.”
Neither Raiola nor Ibrahimovic immediately responded to Karlsson's apology on Friday.
Karlsson led the Swedish athletics team to several international gold medals during its heyday from 2001 to 2004. He has twice been named 'sports leader of the year' at Sweden's biggest sports award gala, 'Svenska Idrottsgalan'.
Himself a former athlete, he has previously admitted that he used anabola steroids when he competed in the 1970s, before they were banned in 1974.