Football

Where does Zlatan Ibrahimovic rank amongst the world's best strikers?

Ibrahimovic celebrates memorable victory. (©GettyImages)
Ibrahimovic celebrates memorable victory. (©GettyImages).

It's a sad state of affairs when it takes something as mind-blowing as what Zlatan Ibrahimovic did to England last night, for him to be considered as one of the world's greatest strikers.

Even more crazy, is the fact that there are plenty of self-proclaimed 'football experts' in this country, that still dismiss the Swedish star's ability as one of the most consistent, and prolific No.9s in the modern era.

The truth is, Ibrahimovic has been at the very top of his game for years, and has been an overwhelming success all over Europe, wherever he has played. But, because he is yet to 'test' himself in the Premier League, means that he's not held in the sort of regard his talent undoubtedly deserves.

"That's the way it is with the English," reflected the Paris Saint Germain striker, after last night's friendly. "If you score against them you're a good player, if you don't score against them you're not a good player.

"I remember Lionel Messi before the 2009 Champions League Final. Then he scored against Manchester United and suddenly he was the best player in the world.

"Maybe now they'll say something like that about me."

Ibrahimovic's four-goal haul and match-winning performance in Sweden's 4-2 victory against the Three Lions, to commemorate the opening of the Friends Arena in Stockholm, in thrilling style, is typical of the man.

A great goalscorer and a scorer of great goals, his first was an instinctive poacher's finish, his second an emphatic half-volley and his third a 30-yard free-kick. But, it's the fourth goal that will linger longest in the memory.

The sensational overhead kick had all the technique, the imagination, and vision that Ibrahimovic has possessed his entire career. It's an individual goal that will be revered all over the world, for years to come, and always act as a reminder of just what the 31-year-old was capable of producing.

Lionel Messi's ability speaks for itself. Only last weekend he passed Pele's milestone of goals in a calendar year, by scoring for the 75th and 76th time in 2012. The three-time Ballon d'Or winner moved within nine of Gerd Muller's all-time record.

Muller will perhaps be discouraged to hear that Messi is chasing another of his records having already surpassed one last season. The prolific German striker scored 67 goals for Bayern Munich in the 1972/73 season - a feat which remained the highest tally in a European club season until the Argentine scored 73 for Barcelona in the 2011/12 campaign.

Messi set another record last season when he scored 50 La Liga goals, moving to the top of Barcelona's all-time top goalscorer list in the process, after surpassing Cesar Rodriguez's 57-year milestone of 232 goals in March.

Three days later, Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo hit back with a record of his own by becoming the fastest player to reach 100 goals in the Spanish league. The 27-year-old surpassed former record-holder and Madrid great Ferenc Puskas, helping Jose Mourinho's men to the La Liga title last season.

Ronaldo finished with 46 goals, four behind Lionel Messi in the Pichichi race, with a combined total of 60 goals in all competitions, including another record where he became the first player in history to score against all 19 Spanish teams in a single season.

With all the media attention that surrounds Messi and Ronaldo, locked in a head-to-head battle for the title as the world's greatest player, Ibrahimovic has been critically overlooked, and also warrants a place amongst the elite.

Many won't consider the Barcelona or Real Madrid stars as strikers, but if someone is their teams main goal threat, and plays centrally, then they should be considered in the same bracket.

Atletico Madrid striker Radamel Falcao is a more traditional 'like-for-like' comparison to Ibrahimovic, and there is no denying he too is one of the most prolific striker's in the world at the moment, with 49 goals in 60 appearances for the La Liga outfit in less than one-and-a-half seasons at the Vicente Calderon Stadium.

The Colombian international was a one-man army in Los Rojiblancos march to Europa League glory last season, and has maintained his impressive goal-scoring form this campaign with 13 goals in 10 appearances in 2012/13.

In the Premier League, Robin van Persie also deserves an honourable mention, when you consider the Dutchman's exploits in front of goal for Arsenal last season, and Manchester United this year. He won the 2011/12 Golden Boot with 30 goals for the Gunners, and has already scored 11 goals in just 15 appearances for the Red Devils, following his £24million move to Old Trafford back in August.

The main thing that is missing from Van Persie's CV, is titles and trophies. Whilst the 29-year-old has a number of individual accolades, his collective league and cup successes are minimal, and is one of the main reasons why he turned his back on the Emirates Stadium, in favour of trying to fulfil his ambition under the tutelage of Sir Alex Ferguson.

That is an area that Ibrahimovic is not lacking, though. Nine league titles - two with Ajax, two with Juventus, three with Inter Milan, one with Barcelona, and one with AC Milan - prove the quality of the striker. And, last season, when he failed to win a ninth league title in a ninth successive season, the super-Swede was so embarrassed he was forced to escape to France, where he is now mounting a Ligue 1 title challenge with PSG.

When you consider all the league titles, the goals, the moments of genius, the incomparable touches and finishes, it should come as no shock to see Ibrahimovic mentioned in the same breath as the world's best. The only surprise is that it's taken this long for everyone else to catch on.

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