Zlatan Ibrahimovic has never needed to reinvent himself, everything else just sort of morphs into place around him. That is, of course, with the exception of Barcelona, where he nevertheless picked up his seventh league trophy in as many years.
The Swedish international is therefore probably one of the small handful of stars across Europe that are as close to sure-bets to land you a league title as you’re going to get, while in doing so batting away the otherwise accepted idea that age is supposed to slowly ebb away at one’s abilities.
You wouldn’t think it that Zlatan is approaching his 32nd birthday, despite being around “forever.” That wonderfully audacious overhead kick against Joe Hart last year paved the way for discussion as to whether he could do whatever it is he does on a weekly basis in England. Naturally the calls would have forced a downturn in the excitement generated from his performance for Sweden that night, as if we can’t get a little carried away by the game.
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Those who have come before him, especially from Serie A, have set the trend: if you’re a bit old you’re going to get eaten alive, either by the opposing players, the fans or the media. Most likely by all at the same time.
But Ibrahimovic has so much more about him as a character than Andriy Shevchenko and Hernan Crespo. The two strikers were at the top of their game in Italy, both contributing, to differing degrees, to AC Milan’s impressive consistency in European football. Two Champions League final appearances and that stunning goal from Crespo against Liverpool. Yet they both failed in England, the subject of a big-money move to Chelsea and the severe, in Shevchenko’s case, hacking away of their reputation and even ability on the pitch.
Ibrahimovic, though, the topic of discussion for Jose’ Mourinho’s Chelsea and Manchester City as Manuel Pellegrini looks to add to his strike force this summer, is the giant who can’t be taken down. Those who love to fly in the face of the enjoyment generated from the game’s simplicity will be quick to reel off any number of games where the Swede hasn’t performed, almost as if to say these footballing gods have no right to be mortals.
The transfer from Barcelona to AC Milan, first through a loan spell and then a permanent move a year later, allowed Ibrahimovic to once again become the focal star of a team. He often dragged Milan over the line in games, helping them to the Serie A title in 2011 and their first since 2004.
The league title streak, however, came to an end last year, despite bettering his scoring numbers on the previous season, and with it the move to Paris, where he once again proved that no league is too big to conquer.
Should we bring up La Liga again? Well he has his winner’s medal along with a host of not too flattering stories of his time at the Camp Nou.
But Ligue 1 isn’t the Premier League. Something about pace, power and the obvious strength of the surrounding squad at the Parc Des Princes generated from the owners’ billions. If Ibrahimovic were to come to England, he wouldn’t be treated like another football superstar by rival fans to enjoy, but rather one that we hope to see fall from grace. We’re a bit perverse like that.
The thing about Ibrahimovic is that he has the power, all 6’5 of him. He has the strength to brush away even the heaviest of challenges. What about his lack of pace? Well the game slows down for him, like those stars whose intelligence and languid style is often misunderstood on these shores but generally well received abroad (Fiorentina fancied Dimitar Berbatov last summer, so too did Juventus; he wound up at Fulham). He’s one of those players who doesn’t need to do the legwork because others, and the ball, do it for him.
At his age, his ego needs a trophy cabinet of its own. He doesn’t really take well to having stars who are generally considered to be on equal footing line up alongside him (Barcelona), and that will be one of Pellegrini’s biggest tasks should the Swede land at the Etihad Stadium this summer.
But aside from the playing aspect, Zlatan is a merchandise and revenue machine. He’s one of the biggest names in world football. He’s marketable. He’s probably the biggest name City will have signed during their time as the richest club in England (keep in mind I said biggest, not best). The marketing and sales will pay for much of the transfer. When PSG travelled away last season, Ibrahimovic was often considered the headline act. People didn’t really care about Marco Verratti, Javier Pastore or Thiago Silva, as undeniably talented as they all are. But going to see Zlatan’s PSG was akin to going to see a major rock act sell out the national stadium.
History dictates that players like Ibrahimovic are very rarely shaken, no matter their surroundings. “It’s a different game in England,” apparently. Well it will be down to him to prove he can do it in the Premier League. Before his career comes to an end, despite that seeming way off in the future, he himself, I’m sure, would like to tick off the Premier League as one of the places he’s conquered. Someone like Ibrahimovic won’t stand for people telling him it can’t be done.
Would Ibrahimovic be a success in the Premier League?
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