“What Carew does with a ball, I can do with an orange” – Zlatan warms up the trash talk before a friendly game against Norway.
The above quote sums up everything that can be said about Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Sure, he may sound like a brash, temperamental, arrogant snob, but the fact remains true that he is currently one of the top strikers in the world. His ability and ball-control might be second to none, but so is his trash-talk. Growing up in Rosengård, one of the toughest areas of Malmö, the young Zlatan managed to stay off violence and focus on football. His teen career with Malmö FF didn’t start on a good note, as people disliked him for his cocky attitude, making him unpopular among the other players. In spite of that, everyone knew how good he was with the ball at his feet. That was in the year 1999. More than 10 years have passed since then, and he still is all of the above and more. Currently he is the only player to have eight straight League wins in three different countries with five different clubs. To achieve the above fact, not only does a player require a huge dose of luck, but also incredible talent. As we walk down those magical eight years, we take a look at the globe-trotting player who has been in the news for incidents both on the field and off it too.
Year 1 – Ajax
The first of his many title-winning seasons started right here at Ajax. Under coach Ronald Koeman, Ibrahimovic was a part of the 2001-02 Eredivisie winning squad. The next season saw him score his first Champions League goal against Lyon. In the following two seasons, he notched up 13 goals each, but sadly Ajax failed to win the league. In August of 2004, rumors of him “injuring” teammate Rafael van der Vaart came out. That eventually led to his sudden sale to Juventus. He won the Eredivisie once more while on the way out, and will be forever remembered for his magic goal against NAC Breda. This title was the start of a streak which has seen him win 8 consecutive league titles in 8 years!
Year 2-3 – Juventus
It was the year 2004-05. Fabio Capello was appointed the coach of Juventus. Alongside him, came a young footballer all the way from Ajax. 16 million Euros were spent to bring him to Italy, and he was straight away drafted into the starting eleven of the Bianconeri. The first season for Ibrahimovic in Juventus ended on a happy note as the Swedish striker went on to score 16 goals and also lift the Serie A trophy for the very first time in his career. The same year, he won his first Guldbollen, a Swedish award, given to the best male Swedish footballer each year. He went on to win four more of those, including the one in year 2010. The next season in Delle Alpi brought him mixed results, as he was played in a more withdrawn role rather than that of the target man. But that did not deter him as he ended up creating chances and garnered important assists. His partnership with Trezeguet flourished as once more Juventus swept everything that lay before them to grab their second successive Scudetto.
Misfortune befell Juventus and they were convicted of the Calciopoli scandal. Not only were the 2004-05 and 2005-06 titles snatched from them, they were also relegated to Serie B. In those dark days for the Old Lady, many players chose to leave the troubled team, leading to a mass exodus of players. Ibrahimovic was one of them.
Year 4-6 – Internazionale
While football legends like Del Piero, Buffon and Nedvěd chose to stay at Juventus after the Calciopoli scandal, Ibrahimovic thought otherwise. Spending a whole year in the second division of football in Italy was too much to take for the Swedish genius and he bailed out. Coming out of Juventus, Ibrahimovic penned a four year contract with the Nerazzurri. Little did anyone realize that it would be the start of a magical three-year spell for the blue side of Milan. In the year 2006-07, he was on top form, hitting as many as 15 goals in the League. In the process, he became Inter’s top goal scorer for that season as they “won” the League for the very first time in 17 years. Also, a League record of 97 points was achieved that season by Inter. In his second season donning the striped blue jersey, Ibrahimovic achieved the distinction of playing his 100th Serie A match. Scoring 17 goals in 26 League matches, he led Inter to their second Scudetto in as many years. He even scored a brace on his return from injury in the last league match against Parma.
It was the year 2008-09, that Ibrahimovic really started to flourish as a player. Cocky, confident and sharp, he found the back of the net in the very first match of the season. This was going to be the year all Inter fans had been waiting for. The creative genius that lay dormant soon erupted in a blaze of spontaneous creativity, as he seemed to score at every opportunity. A goal scored with his heel, without even moving any part of his body was voted as the “Goal of the Year“. As the season went on, he improved as a player and duly ended the season as the leading goal scorer, winning the Capocannoniere with 25 goals.
Year 7 – Barcelona
After another successful campaign with Inter, there arose talks of yet another transfer; a transfer which saw Ibrahimovic moving to Barcelona in an exchange deal with Samuel Eto’o alongwith a fee. Arriving at Camp Nou, he signed a 5 year contract worth over 60 million dollars. On the very onset, Ibrahimovic helped Barcelona to the Spanish Super Cup and then the 2009 UEFA Super Cup victories. His scoring form continued as he became the only Barcelona player ever to score in the first four league matches for the club. Injuries hampered his progress as he was sidelined with a thigh strain for three weeks. He went on to score a goal on his return and then helped Barcelona to win the Club World Cup in December, thereby ending the first half of the season with the Catalans with as many as three trophies. A goal-less January did not deter him as he soon resumed his “love affair” with scoring goals, netting the first of the year 2010 on 14th of February. Another round of injuries led to his tepid displays, as he finished the season with 16 league goals, but more importantly, he won the La Liga title.
Year 8 – Milan
Ibrahimovic returned to the citadel known as San Siro in the August of 2010. While rumors of his fallout with Barcelona coach, Pep Guardiola led to this loan spell, it’s not known for sure what transpired between those two. But Milan fans would have it nonetheless. With Robinho coming in too during the summer transfer window, suddenly the buzz around Milan grew by the day. How would these two function together? How will the new coach, Allegri manage such a team? Questions flew left and right as Ibrahimovic started to grow into his number 11 red-striped shirt. His very first appearance for the Rossoneri was a forgettable affair, as he fluffed a penalty during Milan’s surprising 2-0 loss to Cesena. Rumors of his bust-up with Strasser were doing the rounds back then. But, slowly and surely, he started talking with his feet and made the Milan fans realize that even though he was a brat, he could also score crucial goals. Needless to say, Milan rode his form and luck to their 18th Scudetto and the rest they say is history.
Is he a good omen for Milan? We don’t know. Will he stay in Milan “forever” like he said in his interview? We don’t know. What we do know for sure is that with Zlatan around, football never will be boring.