When asked what his girlfriend got when they got engaged, Zlatan replied: “What she got? She got Zlatan.” This reported response perfectly demonstrates the Swede’s arrogance and whilst he may seem egotistical, one cannot help but find his character rather comically endearing.
Ibracadabra is the shining light of Inter, the striker they depend upon to score the goals and the one who had the largest hand in ensuring their current status at the top. However, it was only two weeks ago that Ibra was faced with heckling from Inter fans. Whilst no-one can deny his audacious talent, Zlatan has failed to secure the admiration of the Nerazzurri fans. Deemed a traitor by the Bianconeri faithful, driven by excessive salaries and solely interested in personal glory, the Nerazzurri feel they deserve more.
Born to a Bosnian caretaker father and a Croatian cleaner mother, Ibra was the son of two immigrants who met when they were living in Sweden. Uncouth Ibra was raised by his father in rather humble surroundings and being obnoxious and unfocused, he eventually left school to focus on his only escape – football. He was quickly spotted and rose to fame at his home town club Malmo, going on to receive attention from Dutch giants Ajax and Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal. Eventually a decision was made and his home side Malmo sold Ibra to Ajax in 2001 for a hefty sum of €7.8 million, at the time, the highest fee ever paid to a Swedish club.
Colossal pressure was immediately placed on the Swede’s shoulders. The Dutch fans, desperate for a remarkable season began to jeer him on the field and the press mocked his abilities and deemed him a waste of money as Ibra failed to impress. However, in his next season and under Ronald Koeman, the new Ajax Coach, Ibra began to deliver. He secured the fans’ praise and began to live up to his name scoring outrageously beautiful goals. However, his performances always mystified the Coach. He usually proved to be an undisputable player in the league and yet never managed to shine in the games that mattered. When it came to the Champions League in 2003/04, Ajax was eliminated in the group stages with the Swede only managing one goal.
Then came the fateful international friendly between Sweden and the Netherlands on August 18, 2004 when it appeared that Ibra hit his fellow Ajax teammate Rafael van der Vaart on the ankle, injuring the Dutch national. Van der Vaart was outraged and publicly implied that the incident was not an accident but intentional – he then went on to claim that Ibra was not mentally stable. Ajax and their fans alike found themselves in a rather unusual predicament, whilst Ibracadabra may have been a scoring sensation, van der Vaart was their national treasure. Due to the controversy, Ibra was promptly sold to Juventus with the deal being completed hours before the transfer window closed. When asked about his move, Ibra commented: “I am very happy. This is the club of my dreams. I’ve always been extremely happy at Ajax and I will the leave the club with pain in my heart. But when Juventus showed up I just knew that this was the chance I would perhaps never have again. I couldn’t say ‘no’ to Juventus.”
On to a grander club with grander expectations and Fabio Capello as Coach, Ibrahimovic was initially met with scepticism from the Bianconeri fans. To be fair, Juve fans only watched his rather inconsistent performances for Sweden and his disappointing displays in the Champions League. Being the dominant force in Serie A, it was the Champions League they cared about to trying and emulate Milan’s European success. If Ibra could not handle big games then was he really a wise purchase? Fortunately for him, David Trezeguet was injured for much of Ibra’s first season, allowing him to frequently start for the Old Lady. He quickly won the hearts of the fans to the extent of being voted the fans’ player of the year. During his time, Juve allegedly refused a mammoth bid of €70 million for the Swede which later proved to be nothing more than fabrications made to increase his market value – a possible ploy from his cash hungry agent whose motivation was and remains to be money.
Tired of his fickle performances on the pitch, Ibra eventually began to attract criticism from the fans and public outcries of disapproval from Capello. Once asked what would be the one thing that would stop him from being a worldwide phenomenon, Ibra promptly and briefly answered: “Injury.” Unfortunately for him, his true weakness lay in his mental state. Ibra was and may always remain a somewhat selfish player. Capello, famed for his strict regime was unable to handle the Swede and publicly denounced his performance against Rapid Vienna in which Zlatan scored Juve’s third goal. “In looking for his first goal of the season he was too selfish,” Capello roared. “On one occasion in the second half when Alessandro Del Piero was completely free, he ignored the better option and preferred to shoot. He made several mistakes and we will discuss it.”
With this performance, Zlatan highlighted his biggest weakness in wanting to be the man who does it all and if he’s not needed, he’s not motivated. He thrives on being depended upon and yearns for a Coach who will humour him with delusions of grandeur. Capello would never succeed in this capacity nor would he want to – this Coach would demand improvement from even a prophet. In the wake of the Calciopoli scandal, certain stars who formed the glittering starting XI for the Old Lady left to European clubs, the fact that Ibra accepted a move to their bitter Italian rivals, Inter, cemented his name as a traitor and lowered the opinion of those who admired him. Money seemed to be his only objective and money he got as he is currently considered one of the highest earners in Serie A, if not the world. He then revealed that he was happy to now being playing for Inter, his favourite club as a child. Funny that, we thought Juve was the club of his dreams.
When Jose Mourinho was to be the new Coach of the current campaign, newspapers everywhere published rumours stating that the Portuguese wanted Ibra sold as he was not going to be part of his plans. Jose was brought on to attain the coveted Champions League trophy and thus could not fathom the prospect of having a European underachiever as the main striker in his team. Nevertheless, the Swede was kept on and a relationship has blossomed. The two are wonderful at publicly feeding each other compliments with Mourinho insisting that Zlatan is the best in the world and the Swede repaying the gesture by admitting that he has learned the most from the Special One. Their shared and perhaps deserved vice, arrogance, has aided in solidifying their relationship and ensuring more consistent displays of outstanding nature from Ibracadabra.
Now for the Nerazzurri fans, how are they meant to embrace a player who called for Luciano Moggi, a scandalous ex-Juve figure, to join Inter as their own management was just not up to scratch? Furthermore, with his public displays of adoration for La Liga and claims suggesting he wants to leave Inter one day, coupled with his proven record of betrayal, he simply cannot be the man who secures a place in their heart. With Francesco Totti of Roma, Del Piero of Juve and Paolo Maldini of Milan, Inter desperately want a symbol of their own. Such a shame that this gifted Swede cannot be the icon they deserve. Essentially, he has a fear of commitment, never looking out for the good of the club, but preferring to concentrate on number one which is bound to attract hatred from fans. This was clearly illustrated when he abandoned his team this weekend in a match that could have seen them lift the league trophy, favouring a visit to his home country as he was suspended.
Famed for his sensational dribbling abilities, Ibra scored the goal that sealed his name in the books of history as an Ajax player – the one against NAC Breda. His imposing stature and gifted technique is the perfect response to his critics. What will always baffle his admirers are his enigmatic match displays. He has the unique capacity to score outstanding goals from as far back as 40 yards but yet manages to fumble clear chances in front of the goal (see his Week 29 performance against Reggina below). Like many geniuses, difficulty he can overcome – simplicity is his struggle. If he only learns how to genuinely commit to a team (which is possible with Mourinho’s Inter) together with sincere displays of humility might see this man live up to his fans’ sky high expectations.
Past Enigmas in Calcio