Not every footballer loves being a star and the focus of attention. Zlatan Ibrahimovic? Give it to him all day. He’s born to score, win championships and for moments of being crowned and distinguished apart from his peers, like getting his name plaqueted on the Malmo walk of fame in Sweden.
If he’ll have it his way, he should have one at the Amsterdam Arena, Juventus Stadium, San Siro (in Blue and Black), San Siro (in Red and Black) and pretty soon and the Parc-de-Princes. When you’re the only players scoring goals for your underachieving club, you need to get recognized by more than just a salary. You need to be immortalized.
The best striker of the last decade in Europe? He might be. His scoring numbers, except for his Juventus seasons, where he wasn’t the player the team was built around (unfortunately for him), are quite impressive. Over the last ten seasons, he has scored 167 league goals for his teams, winning 8 consecutive league titles with Ajax, Juve (revoked), Inter, Barcelona and Milan, until that streak was stopped last season. He has been most successful with clubs that throw everything on him, and base their entire playing philosophy on the fact that everything revolves around the 30 year old striker.
Just like with Paris at the moment. When a team has Ibrahimovic, his talents are best used when positioned as a pivot. Not just a target man inside the box, but someone who slides away towards the midfield, receives passes and builds the attack 30-35 meters from the goal, advancing onward. He loves everything to go through him, and that was a big reason why he didn’t work out socially in Barcelona, with Guardiola having a bit of a different point of view regarding how the game of football should be played.
In Italy? It was perfect for him. Long balls towards him, holding up play while the others join him and enough space to be creative with his passing, movement and ridiculous long range shooting. So far, with an Italian head coach, things are exactly like that for him with PSG. Is it the best thing for his team? I’m not certain.
Because playing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the man, the taekwondo belt, the legend, means cancelling the ego of others, and the importance of others. Players like Javier Pastore and Ezequiel Lavezzi need the game to go through them, but they see the ball less and less. Slowly, by will or by force, they become dependent on Ibra’s game form each week. In the long run, that might not be what’s best for this team in their attempt to conquer France and Europe.
Despite everything’s he has achieved, there’s always a bit of underachieving underlining to everything Ibrahimovic does. Always comes up short in the Champions League, no matter the team and the talent surrounding him. Always not at his best during the crucial UCL matches. His teams become so dependent on him that their game becomes to predictable and too difficult to change when things don’t go well. It’s usually quite enough over the course of a season, but in knockout matches it always proves to be, well, not enough.
PSG are heading down the same road. I’m not sure it’ll be enough for anything more than a league title in France. Ibra may be a legend, but a flawed one, that’ll never fully pay the individual price in order to achieve ultimate greatness with his team.