A Legendary Mercenary - Zlatan Ibrahimovic
We are fortunate to be living in an era where we can watch two of the finest players to have graced a football field. And it is a sign of their brilliance that many others, in any other age, would have been called the best in the world, are just great and not the greatest.
“I’m like Muhammed Ali. When he said he would knock someone out in the fourth round, he did it.” – Ibrahimovic
A man who falls in this category is, I believe, the best striker in the world, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The big Swede is one of the most talented, enigmatic and to a very large extent, the most narcissistic player to have graced a football field. While everyone falls head over heels for one club men like Giggs and Xavi, a man like Zlatan should not be given lesser respect than he commands. I mean, the man has won eight league trophy wins in three different countries and with five different clubs, including the later stripped wins with Juventus. You can’t fight with that kind of a record, neither with that kind of ability.
Ibrahimovic began his career at Malmo and was soon transferred to Ajax. With Koemann as the boss, Zlatan progressed rapidly, and soon, his goals and overall play were catching the eyes of big clubs. He signed for Juventus in 2004, and was instrumental in them achieving the Scudetto. After Trezeguet returned the next year, a different facet to the man’s game was revealed. He became a target man, a playmaker and a goal scorer all rolled into one. He again played a key role in Juventus’ Scudetto title win, but after the Turin team had been stripped of its titles and relegated, Ibra jumped ship.
Next on his agenda were Internazionale, better known as Inter Milan. A boyhood fan of Inter, Ibrahimovic played some of his best football here. Under Mancini, Vieira and Zlatan took Inter on a run of 17 consecutive wins, a record that stands to this day. Inter finished the league with 97 points and their first league title in 17 years.
The legend of Zlatan was growing. In reality, though, it was the next season that established him on the forefront of the imagination of the world. With goals, assists and brilliant play in all departments, Ibra was attracting a lot of interest. Ibra finished with 25 league goals for the season and was signed on for Barcelona for $69 million.
The start was good; he became the only player to net in the first 4 appearances, but soon things started going downhill. Barcelona played a particular philosophy and Zlatan did not fit in. Not to raise a question on his ability but on the team setup, Zlatan was the kind of player who would keep getting you goals, if you trusted him. His narcissism came to the fore and his frustration was obvious.
“I asked for a meeting with Guardiola – for a discussion, not an argument. I said I was being used in the wrong way and that they shouldn’t have bought me if they wanted another type of player. I told him what a friend had said to me – ‘you bought a Ferrari but drive it like a Fiat’. The chat seemed to go well but then Guardiola started to freeze me out.”- Zlatan.
The above record shows that no love was lost between these men, and the big burly striker was loaned out to AC Milan. Although slow on the uptake, soon Zlatan was back in form and scoring goals. The combination of Pato and Ibra was too tough to handle for most teams, and AC Milan won the Italian league. After the move to Milan was made permanent for 24 million euros, Zlatan continued his never dipping form, and with crucial goals against Roma and Arsenal, finished the league campaign with another title and 28 league goals.
Ibrahimovic has a funny bone, it has to be said. Colorful quotes by him, such as inviting a reporter and her sister who questioned him upon the rumors of him being gay were all the rage a few months back. But the funniest has to be this – he said this on the marking by Liverpool defender Henchoz – “First I went left, he did too. Then I went right, and he did too. Then I went left again, and he went to buy a hot dog.”
One of the most complete footballers and potent finishers to grace the game, Ibrahimovic has great goals to his credit, the most unforgettable, of course, being the 30 yard lobbed bicycle kick, which has to go down in history as one of the best goals ever scored. Also, at Euro 2012, he scored a scissors kick from the edge of the box against the French, which was the goal of the tournament.
Currently plying his trade at PSG, he is the undoubted fulcrum of the team, everything either goes through him or ends up at his feet. That is the way he has always preferred it. He believes in himself, and whether we want to or not, we should do too.
He may not be a one club man, but then he has won the Dutch League, La Liga, The Scudetto and cup competitions in all these countries. He has played in Classicos, Milan Derbies, and dominated them too. He does not have a weak point; he is equally brilliant on either foot, strong with his head, can hold play up, can finish with finesse and can score long rangers. He has 265 career goals and 102 assists over 512 appearances, that would aggregate to at least a goal in every two appearances and an assist in every five. These are not the numbers of a mere mortal. He is not as highly regarded as a Messi or as respected as a Ronaldo. He may have had various clubs over the years. And every club he played for has succeeded. Says something about him, does it not?
He has always said that he plays the ‘Zlatan’ way. Well, I like it. Do you?