Zlatan Ibrahimovic: The Man Who Needs No Introduction

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is number 15 in 90min’s Top 20 Greatest Footballers of the Decade series. Follow the rest of the series over the course of the next three weeks.


In 2014, Nike launched their famous ‘?Dare to Zlatan’ campaign which encouraged young footballers to be fearless, adventurous and unique.

No mortal would say the man in question has any concerns, that he is in the slightest bit cautious, or that he lacks individuality. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the human embodiment of all three adjectives, a player who truly breaks the mould and explores new territories.

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If you were to compile a list of the top ten jaw-dropping moments in the Swede’s career, you’d have to leave out a long line of worthy candidates. The sublime is his forte and the extraordinary is simply ordinary to him.

From breaking through at Malmo to his record-breaking time in Major League Soccer, Zlatan has done things his own way. No one has ever been able to suppress the striker’s flair and originality for too long.

Ibrahimovic’s talents were clear to see from his earliest days as a professional in Sweden. For a teenager taking their first steps at senior level, 18 goals in 47 matches is a fine return. 

Arsene Wenger evidently agreed, yet he was unable to lure the youngster to ?Arsenal in 2000. He’d been asked to take part in a trial for the Gunners, to which he replied (as per the ?Telegraph): “Zlatan doesn’t do auditions.”

Instead, it was Ajax who bought him into the public eye as they paid Malmo €8m for his services, Ibrahimovic taking full advantage of the added exposure to launch himself into the stratosphere.

Mesmerising goals are hardly uncommon across the forward’s career, but few knew quite what the starlet was capable of before his dazzling dance through NAC Breda’s backline during the 2004/05 season.

Pirouetting beyond seven different challenges from would-be tacklers, Ibrahimovic left three defenders on the floor and all of them in disbelief as he single-handedly carved Breda open.

Zlatan came to the Netherlands, he saw what there was to see and he conquered it, setting the trend for his career by winning a string of trophies before moving on to new projects.

Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Aj

Two Eredivisies titles were earned during three years at Ajax, with a KNVB Cup also helping expand his silverware collection, the Dutch club then selling him to ?Juventus for double the fee they gave Malmo.

Back-to-back Scudetti came Ibrahimovic’s way after arriving in Turin, yet the Bianconeri were stripped of those honours in 2006 following an investigation into match-fixing across Italian football.

Ibrahimovic chose to jump ship, letting Juve sink into Serie B as he continued his development at rivals ?Inter. That switch to the Nerazzurri saw Zlatan begin to blossom.

Prior to signing on for the San Siro outfit, he had shown glimpses of his wizardry and maintained a respectable strike-rate. Once he was in Milan, the 6’5″ hitman began producing spectacular moments at will, whilst also scoring with greater frequency.

A rocket from range versus Fiorentina nearly broke the frame of the goal as it clattered in off the bar. Reggina were undone by a mazy dribble and 20-yard chip. Bologna could not have predicted his stunning flicked finish at the near-post. No one in Italy was safe.

Unsurprisingly, it took a gargantuan sum of money to prise Ibrahimovic away from Inter, the striker an integral part of a side that came top of the pile in three consecutive ?Serie A campaigns.

€24m made him a Nerazzurri player and €66m saw him leave to join Pep Guardiola’s Catalan revolution, Zlatan eager to team up with the likes of Lionel Messi in a brilliant ?Barcelona side. It proved a poor decision from both the player and his new club.

Under the stressful demands of Guardiola and in the shadow of Messi, Ibrahimovic struggled for form at Camp Nou. The fact he still hit 16 goals in 29 ?La Liga games – many of which he played in an unfamiliar role – demonstrates his undying ability to find the back of the net.

Barcelona's Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrah

Unsurprisingly, Zlatan viewed his spell in Spain as a setback and was particularly critical of his manager there, saying (as quoted by ?Sky Sports): “You bought a Ferrari, but you drive it like a Fiat.”

The forward’s stint at Barça lasted 12 months, with two seasons back in Milan coming next, though this time around he was wearing black and red when he lifted another Scudetto.

Zlatan was a member of the last squad to win Serie A before Juve’s era of dominance began in 2011/12, the ?Rossoneri adding an 18th league triumph in their history as they finished 24 points above the Old Lady.

Amongst his many highlights for Massimiliano Allegri’s team was a mammoth volley against Lecce, Ibrahimovic lobbing the goalkeeper from far, far out, whilst facing the touchline. 

Efforts like that explain why he has been so prolific throughout the last two decades, the Swede scoring on 42 occasions for the club. When he is adept from any angle and any distance, goals will always flow freely.

Very quickly, however, power returned to Turin, the Bianconeri dethroning AC Milan and Zlatan to kick-start their reign of terror in Italy. Even a player of his capabilities could not stop Antonio Conte establishing a new dynasty at the Allianz Stadium.

After agreeing a move to Paris Saint-Germain, he became the first player to score for six different sides in the ?Champions League when he grabbed an opener versus Dynamo Kyiv during the group stages in 2012/13.

A momentous strike for sure, but not on the level of his thunderous effort in the 5-0 destruction of Anderlecht one year on. Of course, that piledriver was only one of a four-goal haul in Belgium, each score a thing of beauty in its own right.

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 In 180 outings for PSG he claimed 156 goals, and a large proportion of those were rounded off in classic fashion. Amazingly, Zlatan was 30 when he signed for Les Parisiens, yet he was still very much in his prime.

Nine domestic trophies were racked up across four years in Ligue 1, yet even the great man was unable to aid their search for a maiden Champions League success.

Nevertheless, he provided some help as ?Manchester United tried to move on from the loss of Sir Alex Ferguson, though the Red Devils still struggled for consistency following Zlatan’s free transfer to Old Trafford in 2016.

Clearly nearing the end of his playing days, Ibrahimovic somehow continued to sparkle as he took on the world’s toughest division for the first time in his life. It was child’s play for the giant.

Injuries restricted him to just the solitary campaign in the ?Premier League; but a solitary campaign was all he would need to prove his talents on English shores. The 34-year-old amassed 28 goals in all competitions to propel his side to League Cup and Europa League glory, scoring a brace and winning Man of the Match in the former.

As has been the case with every other club he’s represented, the veteran left before the supporters got their fix of Zlatan – there is too much to achieve elsewhere for Ibrahimovic to stay in one place for too long.

Some say MLS is a retirement home for stars who are past it, but no one told the forward. He went ahead and broke LA Galaxy’s seasonal scoring record in September, having magicked up his 500th career goal almost exactly one year prior.

You just knew he had to reach both landmarks in his own distinguished manner. Zlatan took his tally to 26 for 2019 by nabbing a hat-trick in the 7-2 crushing of Sporting Kansas City after bringing up the big five-zero-zero with a back-heeled volley versus Toronto FC. 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

So, let’s take stock. That’s 33 pieces of silverware, nine Ballon d’Or nominations, one FIFA Puskas Award victory, four inclusions in the UEFA Team of the Season and 13 Swedish Footballer of the Year triumphs. It has been a delight to watch Zlatan do his thing for nine different clubs.

But, how did he fare on the international stage? Sweden aren’t going to be challenging for a trophy anytime soon, especially without their talisman around anymore.

116 caps have been handed to Ibrahimovic and 62 goals have been given back by the striker, of which two earned him goal of the tournament at a European Championship – it really is just endless stunners from him.

Porto, 2004: Zlatan equalises against Italy with an acrobatic, back-to-goal Kung Fu-style shot that lobbed Gianluigi Buffon and the covering Christian Vieri. Kiev, 2012: Zlatan punishes a lax display from France as he composes himself, meets a deep delivery on the full and pummels it into the corner of Hugo Lloris’ net. 

And then there was also the small matter of a four-goal blitz at home to England, the final of them coming courtesy of an overhead-kick from what might as well have been the opposite end of the pitch.

Those three efforts sum up what Ibrahimovic has symbolised throughout his career. Sure, he’s got an enormous list of honours to his name, yet the Galaxy star represents an alternative approach to football.

Sometimes, the more obvious path is not the best one to take. Sometimes, something outrageous is precisely what’s required. Sometimes, we should dare to Zlatan.


Number 20 – Arjen Robben: The Flying Dutchman Who Became a Modern Legend at Bayern Munich

Number 19 – Mohamed Salah: The Humble King Who Conquered Rome and Took Liverpool By Storm

Number 18 – Sergio Aguero: The Man Who Painted Manchester Blue With One Kick of a Football

Number 17 – Manuel Neuer: The Bayern Munich & Germany Legend Who Revolutionised Goalkeeeping

Number 16: ?E?den Hazard: The Brilliant Belgian Who Mesmerised Fans Across the World


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