Credit: Doha Stadium Plus Qatar
In this entry in my Scandinavian series, we talk about a Swedish Footballer, which one is that? You can probably guess.
There are moments in Football where logic cannot explain the way that someone reacts. The irrational anger I felt when I saw Luis Suarez cheat Ghana out of a World Cup Semi-Final. The incredible feeling watching a player from a rival club score a Winner for your country or the moment where you genuinely lose your mind when a goal is so good against the team you are supporting. This strange phenomenon happened for me on the 14th of November 2012 when England travelled to Sweden.
Throughout my life there have been very few constants, a lot has changed, especially in Football. My team Blackburn Rovers are no longer a Premier League team contesting for Europe, AC Milan and Inter Milan are no longer the European Powerhouses they once were, Liverpool have won the League and now decisions are made off the field by a referee with a TV and they are still incorrect. The whole World of Football has flipped and changed several times and yet there has been one constant. Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
I was 1-year-old when Zlatan started playing professional Football, in fact his debut for Malmo was two days before my 1st Birthday, 19th of September 1999. “Dare to Zlatan” was not just a marketing phrase used for Nike in 2014 it was a way of life for the young Sweed back in his early career, he faced a big resistance against not being the norm, sometimes choosing the more difficult option on the pitch, and being accused of having an “attitude”. If that sounds familiar it’s because it is, Zlatan never changed, he never cracked under the social pressure, instead that pressure over time has created a Diamond, one that refuses to break.
In 2012 when Zlatan scored his 4th goal of the game against England completing his decimation with a 30-yard bicycle kick lob over Joe Hart, people were amazed at how the 31-year-old was still doing such amazing things. In fact, ever since the R word has been constantly hung over his head, and yet I believe that it was this performance against England which has acted as a catalyst which has spurred on the Sweed to score over 300 goals since turning 30!
The stat is nothing short of phenomenal, when Zlatan turned 30 on October 3rd 2011 he was beginning his 1st full season with AC Milan. He had just ‘flopped’ at Barcelona after scoring only 22 goals in two seasons and looked like he was past his best already. He had been brilliant for Inter Milan, had a phenomenal highlight reel for Ajax, couldn’t cut it at Juventus and now surely at AC Milan he was on his way out. Wrong! Zlatan went on to have one of the seasons of his life! He finished as top scorer in Serie A scoring 28 goals in 32 games and managed a total tally of 35 for the season! His season was so good that it put Zlatan back on the move and got him a transfer to PSG for only £20 Million (Although I think his wages may have brought the price down).
It was in his first season for PSG that he single handily dismantled England and as I suspect I think that it was that game that inspired him to push himself to an unbelievable limit! In the following eight league games, after the England match, until the end of the year Zlatan scored eight goals in eight games for PSG. Then in the new year scored another 12, ending the season with 30 league goals and 35 goals in all competitions. Did Zlatan now 31 show any signs of slowing down? Absolutely not, Zlatan went on to score 156 goals in 180 games for PSG, and the argument could be made that ‘oh it’s only the French League’ then how come at the same age (32) the Top Scorer in PSG’s history Edison Cavani scored 23 goals in 33 games whereas Zlatan managed 41 in 46!
People still called Zlatan past it when he made his move to Man United, at 34 when he moved to Manchester, he had just had the best season of his life scoring 50 goals in 51 games in the 15-16 season. In the, so called, harder league Zlatan still went onto score 17 goals in the Prem and 28 in all competitions. Helping Jose and United to three major trophies that season.
Criticism still followed Zlatan, his move to the MLS only riled the critics and when he scored the 300th goal since turning 30 on the 22nd of September 2018(Day after my birthday this time) questions were asked if he could still do it in a top league. How did Zlatan reply? He moved back to AC Milan. After only half a season last year Zlatan is back and is outperforming everyone!
In a league with Cristino Ronaldo who is still being hailed as the best and Lukaku who is meant to be one of the scariest strikers in the League at 39 years old Zlatan is outperforming them both. With help from our friends at Vizi Football we have been able to compare Zlatan to both Ronaldo and Lukaku so far this season.
Due to the different number of games played this season the number for each stat is based on their average over 90min performance.
As you can see 39-year-old Zlatan is performing at a higher level than both! The most shocking being the comparison against the so called “Player of the century”. The only things that Ronaldo currently outranks Zlatan in, is dribbling (Obviously) and expected assists.
But is this really a surprise? Like I said at the start, there has only ever been on constant in Football and it is Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Even the great Ronaldo is starting to lose ground on Zlatan. But he has refused to waver and refuses to use age as an excuse.
But this takes us back to the question, what caused it? In 528 games between the age of 17 and 30 Zlatan manged 232 goals. It took only 7 years after to beat that tally and reach 300 in only 371 games! But how? I think it’s a mix of things. Firstly, his martial arts background, in Sports development there are a few ways to ready someone for a future in any sport by developing their transferable skills. Zlatan earned a black belt in taekwondo back when he was 17 and this hasn’t just meant that he can score amazing goals. The discipline, the style of movement and the development of muscles lends itself to a long career in any Sport. Then there is his attitude, his aggressive, do or die mentality and pure drive to be the best that he can be means that he has never faltered. He never decided that he knows everything that he can, he has constantly moved and learnt. His ego comes across arrogance to some, but it also drives him, he was pushed against when he was young for his style of play but along the way decided that he wasn’t going to change and by developing what he knew he was good at, instead of bending to the norm, Zlatan truly has become a freak of nature.
Finally, Sweden 4 – 2 England. Everything came together. He was 31 he had just had a good comeback season with AC Milan, earned a move to PSG and now had the chance to prove himself to his country against the most critical footballing nation on earth. Each goal was more ridiculous than the last and his fourth of the night earned so many plaudits, so many replays that I think in that moment Zlatan remembered who he was. He was a fighter someone who has had to combat criticism his whole life and now he had just scored the most audacious goal ever scored. It fuelled his ego, pushed his confidence to unbelievable levels and acted as the catalyst for him to keep going to score more than he ever has before! A young kid from Malmo had broken the limits that so many didn’t want him to, and it took him to another level!
He is one of my footballing hero’s and long may he continue!
Thanks for reading.