zlatanera (v.) – to dominate, i.e. to clear anything with force
Zlatan Ibrahimović is perhaps the most unforgettable player of the 21st century. His name is even in the official Swedish dictionary. There isn’t a defender in the world who doesn’t have at least some fear when they hear his name. The most complete striker of his generation, Ibrahimović is one of the best goalscorers ever. Like a fine wine, he gets better with age and is the only player to score in the Champions League with 6 different teams. The captain of Sweden has 62 goals in 112 international appearances, and 296 goals in 480 club appearances. But watching him play tells much more than his incredible statistics, as he is one of the most interesting players in modern soccer.
Ibrahimović is good in the air, strong, agile, and incredibly quick for being 6′ 5”. His hold up play is amongst the best, and his finishing, passing, and vision is unparalleled. He can play anywhere upfront, but usually as the main striker or as a supporting creative forward. As soon as he gets the ball, his head is already up playing the next move. On top of that, his unpredictability is unlike that of any other player. Take this strike against England in Stockholm for example, a game in which Sweden came from behind to win courtesy of 4 goals from Ibrahimović.
As a younger player at Ajax, Ibrahimović dribbled past player after play, beating them with his pace and quickness like he did here.
However, now 34, he relies on his absurdly powerful shots and volleys from inside and outside the box and free kicks to score goals. Take this thunderbolt against Anderlecht for instance.
According to Ibrahimović, holding up the ball is the major key. If there isn’t an open teammate when he gets the ball, he uses his body excellently to ward of opposing players until his teammates can get up the field. However, if he sees an opportunity for even a half chance at goal, he will go himself. Simply put, he is an intelligent player who makes the right decisions at the right moments.
He made his international debut in 2001 against the Faroe Islands and immediately solidified himself in the team. He traveled to Korea for the World Cup the following year, making a few appearances as a substitute. Sweden were knocked out in the Round of 16, as they were 4 years later to Germany. Since 2005, he has been awarded the Country’s Player of the Year every year with the exception of 2006, but really it wasn’t until 2012 that Ibrahimović proved he could replicate his stellar club performances for his country on a regular basis. Ahead of Euro Qualification he was named captain and led the team as the top goalscorer. At the Finals, he opened the scoring against Ukraine and then scored the goal of the tournament the next game in the win against France. Despite his goals, they were knocked out of the group stage. In 2014 World Cup Qualifying, he scored 8, including 2 in the playoff lost to Portugal. Many thought that Sweden’s failure to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil meant Zlatan’s career was very nearly over. However, they could not have been more wrong. This qualifying campaign he has been a menace, scoring 11 (only second to Robert Lewandowski’s 13).
In his 15 club seasons, Ibrahimović has incredibly won the league 13 times. Starting out at Malmo, he gained a lot of attention as a youth player and was snatched up by Ajax in 2001 as a teenager for 5M Euros, where he scored 35 league goals in 52 appearances and won the Eredivisie twice. In 2004, he transferred to Juventus for 15M Euros. He grew the most at Juventus and gives a lot of credit to Fabio Capello to toughening him up and teaching him the importance of winning. In the summer of 2009, he left for Inter Milan after the Calciopoli Scandal at Juventus, which saw the team relegated to Serie B. At Inter, he scored an incredible 57 goals in 82 appearances and won 3 Serie A’s and 2 Italian Cups. But in 2009 he received a 70M Euro offer to play for his dream club Barcelona.However, he had major problems with Pep Guardiola and the philosophy surrounding the club and his 21 goal season was considered a failure. He followed Barcelona with a move back to Italy for 2 seasons, but this time to AC Milan. He scored over 50 goals for the club and joined the ranks of one of their best forwards in club history. After the dismantlement of the Milan side that saw the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Gianluca Zambrotta, Gennaro Gattuso, Filippo Inzaghi, Clarence Seedorf, Thiago Silva, Alexandre Pato, and many more, Ibrahimović decided it was time for a fresh start. He went to France to join PSG in 2012, a side that was beginning to spend massive amounts of money to build a dynasty and join the most premier clubs in Europe. In his 4 seasons in France, he has scored over 100 goals to become the club’s all-time record goalscorer. Despite winning the French Cup and League in dominate fashion for the last three years, PSG have gone out in 4 consecutive quarterfinals in the Champions League, their most desired prize. Ibrahimović’s contract expires this summer and his future is uncertain. But one thing that is not is his desire to win Euro 2016.
Against strong Belgium and Italian defenses, Ibrahimović will need to continue his form to get results. He should have no problem against Rep. of Ireland, but he is Sweden’s only hope at making it into the knockout stages as underdogs.
By Kuber Madhok and Trung Can
How to cite this page: “Euro 2016 Players to Watch: Zlatan Ibrahimović”, written by Kuber Madhok and Trung Can (2016). Introduction to Euro 2016, Players to Watch, European Cup 2016 Guide, Soccer Politics Blog, Duke University, http://sites.duke.edu/wcwp/tournament-guides/european-cup-2016-guide/euro-2016-players-to-watch/euro-2016-player…atan-ibrahimovic/(accessed on (date)).
“Zlatan Ibrahimović.” Eurosport. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2016. <http://www.eurosport.com/football/zlatan-ibrahimovic_prs17966/person.shtml>.
“Zlatan Ibrahimovic.” Soccerbase. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2016. <http://www.soccerbase.com/players/player.sd?player_id=24656>.