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.
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.”
1??5?? years ago, Zlatan Ibrahimovic did *this* against NAC Breda – Ajax’s greatest ever goal?
And it’s the only time we’ll accept filming from the stands… pic.twitter.com/IfUA0vSdaY
— FourFourTwo ?? (@FourFourTwo) August 22, 2019
Instead, it was Ajax who bought him into the public eye as they paid Malmo
€24m made him a Nerazzurri player and
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.
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.
On this day, in 2017: Zlatan Ibrahimovic drags Manchester United to League Cup glory in a 3-2 final victory against Southampton at Wembley. pic.twitter.com/UmKqESNLA0
— United Through Time (@UtdThroughTime) February 26, 2019
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.
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.
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