A quote by the former Juventus president Luciano Moggi when asked by reporters as to whom will win the title, Moggi felt Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the key man for any team to winning the title. He’s not wrong. Since 2003, Ibrahimovic has won the title with Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan and Barcelona, though many will claim that the Juventus titles are deemed null after Calciopoli. Regardless, it shows how key and talismanic the Swede is to his teams.
His Barcelona reign was cut short because of differences between the coach Pep Guardiola and himself, however his record wasn’t bad. Quite the contrary in fact, he scored twenty-one goals in fourty-one games – only beaten by the excellent Lionel Messi and Pedro – and he scored the winner in the first Clasico between the two sides at the Nou Camp last season.
So why is Ibrahimovic considered more of a liability than an asset to his teams? Pundits, journalists and commentators constantly cite his lack of goals in the Champions League knockout stages, though those words were slingshot back after two beautifully taken goals against Arsenal.
His attitude and the aura built around him makes him an easy panto villain. He’s not one to rack up 12km on the pitch every game but is football success purely based on productivity? Aren’t strikers judged more on the end product or assisting in the producing the end product?
Maybe that is the price that has to be paid for someone as talented as Ibrahimovic. His magic, ingenuity, flair and elegance has got many of his teams out of trouble.
Certainly, it was something which Jose Mourinho constantly banked on when managing at Inter, and it was fruitful for the Portuguese manager, after winning the Scudetto in his first season. Similarly, AC Milan remain at the top the table and have done so resembling Inter’s style of football. Highly pragmatic yet it suits Ibrahimovic to do what he knows best – scoring a vast array of goals.
In a sense, Ibrahimovic is perfect for teams looking to control games and hoping to nick wins. Italy isn’t known for goal-feasts, more so its huge emphasis on shape and strategy to stop the opposition and in low scoring leagues, that bit of panache can unpick the opposition defence.
At Barcelona, he was surrounded by Lionel Messi, the rising Pedro, the impressive Andres Iniesta and the efficient Xavi – Ibrahimovic had to take a back seat, which proved to be a culture shock for him, after driving teams to titles and cups with his previous employers.
Possibly that explains why he didn’t bed in as well he would have wanted. Ibrahimovic was always the star at the clubs he was at – the team was essentially built around him, for him to score goals and he enjoyed the adulation and attention he received from the fans. Suddenly, he is playing in a side which is already settled in a set pattern and he isn’t numero uno with the fans. Instead, he is viewed as the second choice, after failing to land David Villa and with that, expectations are immensely high to impress the baying Catalan fans, who wanted a repeat on the previous years’ achievements.
The discussion and debate will remain about Ibra’s talent and mentality. His track record is impeccable and consistent but like Marmite – you either love him or loathe him.