Every week at The Center Circle, we are highlighting a different player in a feature we call “On the Spot”. We’ll take a look at superstars, underrated gems, aging veterans, and young unknowns who should be known. We’ll peruse their club and international careers, taking note of their teams, statistics, and highlight reels. We’ll illuminate their strengths and weaknesses and comment on their personalities and reputations. It will be some fun. If there is anyone you want to see “On the Spot”, feel free to comment below.
It is probably a fair statement to say that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the most self-confident player on the planet. He has described himself as a “10/10 footballer” and even “god.” While his assessment is certainly a bit overzealous, there is no denying that he is one of the top players in the game. He was already regarded as the second best Swedish athletes in history by a local magazine, which Zlatan was predictably upset with. No matter that he finished behind Bjorn Borg, arguably one of the best tennis players ever, Zlatan claimed that he should have been “number 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5” on the list. Before we get into the controversial player that is Zlatan, we have to examine his career to this point.
Tough Neighborhood, Tough Kid
Zlatan was born and grew up in Malmo, Sweden, with a Bosniak father and a Croatian mother. His parents split when he was young, and Zlatan spent various portions of his childhood with both parents. He also has two siblings, and three half-siblings. By all accounts, the building and neighborhood that Zlatan grew up in was considered less than safe. He himself has admitted to stealing multiple bikes among other things. This rough and tumble upbringing is obviously apparent in the way he plays on the pitch.
He bounced around to various youth clubs when he was young before breaking into the senior squad for Malmo FF in 1999. He stayed at the club, even though they were relegated to the 2nd division, leading them back to the Allsvenskan the next year. Interest began to grow from some larger clubs around the globe, and it was only a matter of time before Zlatan moved. Arsene Wenger wanted him to come for a trial with Arsenal, but Zlatan rejected this, saying effectively “take me or leave me, no trials.” He eventually was sold to Ajax of the Dutch league for 8.7 million euros.
Ibrahimovic has described his time at Ajax as a positive one. His flashy style exploded at Ajax, and culminated in a Goal of the Year when he dribbled through five or six defenders by himself and finishing with a goal. Speculation swirled about a transfer after a run-in with an Ajax teammate during an international match, with Zlatan eventually moving to Juventus for 16 million euros.
His time at Juventus was overshadowed by scandal which had Juventus stripped of multiple titles, and an automatic relegation to Serie B. He obviously did not want to play in a lower division, and requested a transfer like many of his teammates. Juventus obliged, selling him to Inter Milan for 24.8 million euros.
Zlatan really blossomed at Inter, leading Serie A in scoring during the 2008-09 season with 25 goals. He also garnered Serie A player of the year honors while with them. His next move was to Barcelona in a swap deal with Samuel Eto’o heading the opposite way. This is one move that he regrets, as Zlatan and coach Pep Guardiola did not get along. He used his book “I Am Zlatan” to help explain his side of the story, and his time at Barcelona did not end well. He finally got the transfer he wanted to AC Milan for a 24 million price tag.
Zlatan has said that this was a rebirth to his career, and that he began enjoying his football again at Milan. While he was enjoying his time in Italy, Ibrahimovic had stated that he wanted to work on a project. That project turned out to be PSG, to which Zlatan moved for a 20 million dollar fee. We have all seen what he does in Paris, continuing the trend as a great goalscorer. He has had double-digit goals every season with exception to his first at Ajax.
Pride of Sweden
Zlatan Ibrahimovic doesn’t exactly fit the profile of a “normal” Swede. He fits more of the Eastern European profile, which isn’t a surprise considering both of his parents are not from Sweden. By FIFA standards, Zlatan was eligible to play for three separate nations: Sweden, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Croatia. He decided at an early age that he would represent the country of his birth, and has stuck with that commitment all the way through.
He played for the various youth levels for Sweden before getting his senior team call up and debut against Faroe Islands on January 31, 2001 during the Nordic Football Championship. The next year, he would be a part of Sweden’s 2002 World Cup team that were knocked out in the round of 16. He helped Sweden qualify for Euro 2008 and 2012, while participating in both events’ finals. He also participated in the 2006 World Cup finals with Sweden, when they were again knocked out in the round of 16.
The 2010 World Cup cycle saw Sweden fall one point shy of qualifying in the group stage. The 2014 cycle wasn’t much different, with Zlatan’s team inching right up to the brink of qualifying. He scored four goals in a match against England, with one of the goals garnering him the Puskas Goal of the Year award. The team made it to the play-off round, where they were paired against Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal. Portugal came out on top and headed to Brazil. Despite these setbacks, Zlatan has broken multiple records for the Swedish national team, including gaining 100 caps.
Style of Play
Zlatan is a relatively tall forward, standing at 6 ft 5 in tall. He possesses an extraordinary technical ability for such a large player. He is relatively good in the air, while also being able to muscle with defenders. He is a great penalty and free kick taker, while being very strong with both feet. He is considered one of the most complete forwards of his generation. There was a period of time during his career when he won 8 straight domestic league titles across 3 leagues.
There has been multiple instances of Zlatan clashing with both players of other teams, and his own teammates. He has received multiple suspensions for various acts, including multiple altercations involving punches and slaps. He even got into a fist fight with American Oguchi Onyewu while they were teammates at Milan.
Off The Field
Zlatan met and married Helena Seger in Sweden, and they now have two sons together. He has claimed Muhammad Ali is one of his idols, which may explain his confidence. He is always an interesting interview, but also chooses his words carefully. He currently wears the Nike Mercurial boot, and is in multiple Nike ads. For all of the media portrayals of Zlatan, there is another side that is not advertised as much.
He has funded a soccer field for his home neighborhood in Malmo, while regularly donating new kits to his youth club. In 2014, he paid the entire cost of the trip for Sweden’s mentally handicapped team to go to the INAS World Football Championships in Brazil after they asked for a jersey to auction off. He said that even though his squad did not make it to Brazil, that he would be able to experience the World Cup through the “Unknown Team.”
More recently, Zlatan paired himself with the World Food Programme, an organization that helps feed starving people and raise awareness. He had around 50 names temporarily tattoo’d on his body, and when he scored in a match against Caen, he took off his shirt to reveal the names.
Zlatan may be a grade A jerk to his fellow players and media members, but when it comes to fans and people who need help, he is a pretty good guy.