Now regular listeners to the Italian Football FanCast and the Manchester United Football FanCast will be very aware of my liking for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, some of my colleagues would even call it a blind obsession. After weeks of mockery, I have decided to take it upon myself to explain why I think Zlatan is truly world class and up there with the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. So be prepared for some statistics!
He is a player that has everything, his 6’3 and a half inch frame holds within it, a talent that many of us can only dream of. He possesses pace, movement, sublime finishing ability, the dexterity to try then ultimately pull off the unexpected and amaze his watching audience. All this is complemented by a footballing intelligence that can only be described as extraordinary.
This season in Serie A, Ibrahimovic has been at his most prolific scoring 25 goals in 35 games adding 7 assists, that’s 0.7 goals per game. He is the reigning Capocanonniere. Comparing this to Nicolas Anelka, the Premierships top scorer with 19 goals in 33 games, 0.54 goals per game. Granted the likes of Samuel Eto’o, and Lionel Messi boast better records, but it must be noted, La Liga is much more open tactically compared to Serie A, thus leading to more goal scoring opportunities.
His record for Sweden is also impressive, 21 goals in 56 games, in addition to his 6 goals in 7 games for the U21’s. With all due respect, Sweden aren’t exactly setting the world alight with their scintillating brand of football and thus adds weight to a very good scoring rate at international level.
It is not only his scoring record that is worth looking at, on the most part his performances have been excellent and in some cases breathtaking. A mention has to go to the manner in which he scores his goals, most notably his near post back heel flick against Bologna, the free-kick he blasted in against Fiorentina and the sublime ‘edge of the box’ chip against Reggina. Plus the final day back heel, which showcased his strength, touch and ability to pull off the unexpected.
Ibra began his career at local team FBK Balkan, and on one occasion a 10 year old Ibrahimovic was a second half substitute, at which point FBK Balkan were losing 5-0, Zlatan went on to score 8 and his team won. Ibra-cadabra indeed. Transferred between Malmo, Ajax, Juventus and Inter for a combined total of €50 million, it was money well spent as far as I’m concerned.
On his Champions League debut in 2002 he scored 2 goals for Ajax against Lyon and in the same season scored what can only be described as a wondergoal against NAC Breda, later voted goal of the season by Eurosport. He dribbled past the whole defence took the ball round the keeper, put another 3 or 4 players on there backsides and slotted the ball home, beyond the shadow of a doubt the work of a marvel.
He then went on to play for Juventus and was an instant hit with the Bianconeri, with 16 goals in his first season. Although in his second and final season with Juve, his form dipped and eventually forced his way out of the club after the Calciopoli scandal, moving to the club he supported as a boy, FC Internazionale.
It is in Milan that Irbahimovic has blossomed and become and integral part to the Inter juggernaught. Last season he managed to bag 22 goals in 33 games including 5 goals in 7 starts in the Champions League. It must also be noted that Ibra had 24 shots of which 7 were on target in the Champions League, what that tells you is … if you give him a chance he will score.
He has often been criticised for his performances against the big clubs and especially those in the Champions League. Statements which bear fruit when you consider he has never scored in the knockout stage of Europe’s premier club competition. This aside, I will put forward a case for his defence. This player is one that is arguably his team’s only attacking threat; nullify Ibrahimovic and Inter become somewhat impotent in attack.
Pressure on him to perform has resulted in a player that can it be said, ‘tries too hard’ in the so-called ‘big’ games. Instead of just playing his natural game, he seems intent creating and scoring all on his own in an attempt to prove to all his doubters that he is indeed the best player in the world. Although Jose Mourinho already deems this to be the case.
Zlatan however, does have his shortfailings, he is a supremely confident young man, when asked what could stop him becoming the best player in the world he replied with only one word “injury” then asked to describe himself in three words … his retort, “I am brilliant”. A statement I agree with wholeheartedly.
In more recent times he has voiced his desire to move from the peninsula, stating: “I don’t know what else I can still do in Italy, other than keep going and build a collection. We’ll see. Now there are two internationals with Sweden and then we’ll wait and see what happens. The future? I don’t know. If something is going to happen, it will be after this match. We will see, I don’t know yet”.
In my view Zlatan would only go to a top club, and with no disrespect to any other teams in Spain that means Barcelona or Real Madrid. At both teams he would score more goals get more assists and ultimately become a Ballon d’Or winner.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a magician, a talisman and an enigma but even so he is undeniably one of the finest players on this small blue planet and if he does leave it would be a massive loss to Inter and Calcio as a whole.