Is it fair to call Zlatan Ibrahimovic the most overrated striker in Europe?
He is top scorer in France’s Ligue 1 and holds the all-time top scoring record for Sweden. He scored a goal against Barcelona this week, and set up a second which has blown the Champions League tie wide open. He has been recognised as Sweden’s best footballer in seven out of the last eight years, has won the Serie A title with three different teams, has been rated as Italian Fotballer of the Year three times and has earned Eredivisie and La Liga titles.
But is Ibrahimovic, the man whose transfer fees have totalled over £160m, worthy of these accolades?
Let's take a closer look at his career:
Ibrahimovic joined Ajax from Malmo in 2001, and under new coach Ronald Koeman, helped guide Ajax to the league title. Ibrahimovic scored twice against Lyon on his Champions League debut as Ajax went on to lose to Milan; however, the following season he was able to muster a single goal on Europe’s largest stage. After scoring 35 league goals in 74 league games, Zlatan was snapped up by Juventus for over £13m. The Swede scored a goal every 2.1 games in a Dutch league where Ajax had little competition from any team other than PSV.
Ibrahimovic’s time at Juventus began positively, with an injury to David Trezeguet allowing Ibra to score 16 goals in his first season, thus signalling the intent of the young striker.
Following a successful first season in Serie A, Ibrahimovic’s career became stressed as he was pushed over to the wing following a number of unconvincing performances. Ibra finished the season with seven goals; however, many became frustrated, claiming Ibrahimovic was unrecognisable in important games.
He had failed to shine in Juventus’ Champions League exit to Arsenal, who would eventually knock out Real Madrid and reach the final, and following the Calciopoli scandal in which Juventus were relegated, Ibrahimovic manufactured a move away from the Turin club.
Ibrahimovic looked arrogant leaving world-class players such as Gianluigi Buffon, Pavel Nedved and Trezeguet to endure on singular season in which they eased to the top of Serie B before moving straight back up to the top flight. He was consequently sold to Inter Milan for more than £20m but was stripped of the titles he won at Juventus.
Ibrahimovic’s first season at Inter Milan will stick among one of his greatest as Inter finished first with a record of 97 points. However, in October 2007, Ibra scored his first two goals in the Champions League since 2005, both coming against PSV. Following this absence of goals and question marks over his temperament in Europe’s largest competition, Zlatan was once more seen as anonymous figure in big games - much to the fans' aggravation.
Regardless of his form against the world’s top teams, Ibra scored 57 Serie A goals in 88 games with a ratio of 1.54 games per goal during his tenure at Inter, becoming Serie A’s top scorer in the 2008/09 campaign. Ultimately this form saw him move to Barcelona in exchange for Samuel Eto’o for an estimated worth of around £40m.
Eto’o scored 33 goals in 67 games for Inter; however, Ibra’s exit was followed by a Champions League final victory over Bayern Munich and a domestic double under Jose Mourinho. This was one first time Ibrahimovic’s exit was followed up with a Champions League win.
In Ibrahimovic’s second game for the Catalan club he won the Spanish Super Cup, but his time at Barcelona was to go downhill. Ibra’s early season form saw him lead La Liga’s scoring charts with seven goals in as many games; however, two goals were to come against the soon-to-be relegated Real Zaragoza - his goal scoring quality against the weaker sides was once again the only thing that appeared consistent.
Ibra finished 2009 winning the FIFA World Club Cup with goals from Xavi and Lionel Messi highlighting the tournament, but Ibrahimovic had to wait till mid-February to score his first goal of 2010 despite being given the chance to shine repeatedly.
The Swede faced two suspensions in 2010, demonstrating the lack of discipline that had been highlighted while at Inter Milan, and whilst scoring two goals against an injury ridden Arsenal, he once more failed to perform against his old club Inter as Barcelona were dumped out 3-2 over the two legs despite Thiago Motta’s 28th minute red card in the return leg at the Camp Nou.
Ibra’s failure to take advantage of a 10-man Inter summed up his stay at Barcelona. His reputation had cost them £40m his performances warranted the cry for a refund.
Barcelona’s big name signing was loaned out to AC Milan in August 2010 and, after a debut season scoring 14 goals, Ibrahimovic seemed to be increasing in confidence. Having scored the winner against his old club Inter the Swede surpassed Alexandre Pato as the club's top scorer, but problems arose once again with Ibra receiving a three-match ban for throwing a punch in a game against Bari, and his return was marked with another red card for swearing at an assistant during a tie with Fiorentina.
Regardless, Zlatan won yet another Scudetto. The next season Ibra once again scored the winner against his old club Inter in the Italian Super Cup final. He then scored against another old club, Barcelona, but failed to perform in the return leg as AC Milan crashed out of Europe.
Ibrahimovic finished the campaign with 28 goals in 32 matches, proving to be an all-time high for the Swede. However, after receiving another red card for slapping Napoli’s Salvatore Aronica and seeing his previous side win the Champions League despite having the chance to write a whole different chapter, Ibrahimovic seemed to be a curse. Following AC Milan’s sale of the pricey striker to Paris Saint-Germain, Zlatan would be glad to see AC Milan fall before the Champions League final.
Ibrahimovic signed for PSG for a figure estimated at £20m, with reports claiming that he would be the world’s second highest paid player next to Samuel Eto’o, the man whom had one Champions League titles with two of the teams Ibrahimovic had failed with.
Ibra’s first season has seen him score 25 goals so far, but where he scored two against Lorient, two against a weakened Lille and three against Valenciennes, his performances against league contenders such as Lyon and Saint Etiene have been lacklustre. Ibrahimovic then squandered a number of decent chances in the first leg Champions League tie against Barcelona; however, his goal appeared to be offside. He was fortunate: the assistant referee’s error saw a poor game change into a triumph.
Ibrahimovic has appeared egotistic, uncontrollable and inconsistent throughout his career, but with PSG still firmly in the Champions League and top of Ligue 1, Ibrahimovic may finally be able to muster some sort of performance on Europe’s top stage.
Having scored over 250 goals in over 500 appearances Ibrahimovic is, on the whole, a lethal striker. However, can it be argued that this man is worth his place within the world’s elite?
Having won just three games out of 18 against former clubs Ibra appears to lack quality against the bigger sides. His 25 goals in a less respected French league proves timid in comparison to Luis Suarez’s 22 in the Premier League, Radamel Falcao’s likewise total for Atletico Madrid, Lionel Messi’s magical tally of 43 goals or even Robert Lewandowski’s 20 goals in the Bundesliga.
Ibrahimovic holds a formidable reputation, but some would argue that many others are just as good, if not better than the prolific Swede.
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