Every sport needs someone to provide the box office and thrills. Or at least, someone who is outspoken and talks a big game. UFC has Conor McGregor, NBA has Draymond Green and Formula 1 has Nikita Mazepin (sigh). In football, this personality is not hard to find. In fact, he has left his mark on the entire world, quite literally.
This someone is Zlatan Ibrahimović. A striker by position, he is a unique footballer to assess, but he is one of quality and charisma. Fans always want to know what he does. He talks a big game, and he backs it up on the pitch too. He has a cocky personality and gives himself sobriquets, but if he says he is going to smash a team on match day, chances are he will.
There is nothing he can’t do, In fact, he has Chuck Norris jokes based on him. Zlatan once killed two stones with one bird. And that’s just a fact.
And that thing about leaving his mark on the entire world? The Swede is a globetrotter, having played for top clubs in every major league. Throughout his career, he has done the job he’s paid to do, which is score lots of goals. Whether it is Spain or the United States, Zlatan has relished the back of the net.
He shoots, he scores
A prolific goalscorer by profile, Zlatan plays as a classic number 9, but has also played as a second striker and even as a creative playmaker at times. This shows that in addition to lethal finishing and composure, he also possesses great technique and vision.
Zlatan is a right-footed player, but has scored some rockets with either foot. He is also a massive aerial threat, and his height and jumping allow him to score headers. He is also an accurate penalty and free-kick taker. More crucially, he has scored some absolute wonder goals, ranging from bicycle kicks to acrobatic volleys.
Zlatan has played for Ajax, Barcelona, Juventus, Inter Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United and AC Milan, among other clubs. Everywhere he has played, he has left scoring all kinds of goals.
The 39-year-old also has a trophy cabinet that would put some clubs to shame. He has picked up most major honours available in football. He is the only player to have scored for six different clubs in the UEFA Champions League.
Zlatan is as cocky as they come
Zlatan has been called out for his brash attitude and his cocky behaviour. He also has a terrible disciplinary record. He has more red cards than some defenders, and from the way he talks himself up, you would think he is above Messi and Ronaldo.
While he isn’t, that’s part of his charm. When Zlatan talks, the footballing world listens. If you think he is the footballing equivalent of prime heel WWE Rock, you are bang on.
Like the Rock, Zlatan talks a lot of trash. But just like the Brahma Bull whoops his opponents in the ring, Zlatan bullies his opponents on the pitch for 90 minutes. For that, he is considered to be one of the greatest strikers of his generation.
The best thing about him is that he has aged like the best quality wine. He turns 40 this year, but from the way he plays, you would wager your left arm he has just entered his thirties.
Unwavering elite status
Zlatan possesses an incredible winners’ mentality, and a fierce competitiveness. He wants to change games when he plays, and he has done that many times. When he made the switch to America, people thought his days at the highest level were done. But then, his LA Galaxy debut happened.
Coming off the bench, it took him all of 19 minutes to announce his arrival. With his team 3-1 down, he scored a screamer from 40 yards out that two keepers couldn’t have saved. When he told the press “the lion is hungry”, he really meant it.
With LA Galaxy level against LAFC, he popped up again to score an added-time winner that sent everyone into hysterics. This was perhaps the greatest MLS debut ever. But it was normal service for Zlatan. In his words, all he had done was give the fans Zlatan.
Even on a national level, Zlatan has been a talisman. He has been a colossal presence for Sweden, delivering the goods multiple times. Perhaps the definitive memory of his international career was THAT goal against England.
It was a goal that won him the Puskas Award, but even that doesn’t do it justice. Anyone who saw it had to pick their jaws off the ground after a long time of staring at their screens in disbelief.
It was straight out of FIFA on 100 shot power and accuracy, with the scripting turned up to infinity.
Now in the twilight of his career (if that’s even a thing for the Lion), Zlatan plays for AC Milan, making his return to the Italian club after his MLS stint. AC Milan, until then a fallen giant, is now in the Champions League. At the centre of it is Zlatan, their top league scorer with 15 goals in 19 matches. Age is well and truly just a number for the veteran striker.
The one trophy that’s eluded him in his career, despite playing for so many clubs, is the Champions League. While it is a Herculean (sorry, Zlatalean) task to do it with AC Milan, this is Zlatan’s last shot at glory. He may not win it, but that is hardly a blemish on his illustrious career.
When he hangs up his boots, he will be remembered as a complete striker, an elite competitor, and above all, fan service in football. As a wise man called Zlatan said, “I can’t help but laugh at how perfect I am.”
At the risk of shamelessly quoting the same person, your writer will leave it here. But then again, as the great Zlatan once said, “I came like a king and left like a legend.”
Wise words indeed, and on that, whether you love him or hate his guts, everyone can agree on that. When he does say goodbye to football, he will have left a legend, having come as a king.