What is it that drives Zlatan Ibrahimovic? Making money? Winning titles? The Champions League? Simply being on a team he’s happy to play for? Being regarded as the team’s number one player, without contest? It seems that his turbulent temper, mind and heart has taken him almost through every big club in Europe, never finding rest, and it seems that his chapter in Paris with PSG isn’t going to be long-lived as well.
The arrival of Edinson Cavani can mean a few things – That PSG aren’t satisified with Ibrahimovic alone, despite having the Swedish striker lead them to their first championship since 1994, leading Ligue 1 with 30 goals last season and to the Champions League quarterfinals, where they drew twice with Barcelona; or that they simply want to try something new – a two striker approach, which isn’t very common in Europe these days.
What you usually see is one striker with three attacking midfielders playing behind him (with two of them possibly wingers) or some sort of 4-4-2 split into more modern variations, as the second striker is actually a supporting one, with the ability to turn into a winger or an attacking midfielder. The days of teams playing with two ‘number 9’s’ are a thing of the past, or left for when a team is forced to do everything possible in order to find the goal.
It’s not that Ibrahimovic can’t be that second striker if needed. His passing skills, vision and ball control are on par with the best midfielders in the world. There were plenty of times he was used as a pivot by PSG, while Lavezzi and Jeremy Menez pushed forward and waited for his pass. Ibrahimovic can play next to other forwards and can be the supplier instead of the finisher, but it doesn’t mean he wants to.
Maybe the most important thing for Ibrahimovic is being the highest paid player on a team, and the biggest star. While Cavani hasn’t changed the status on the payroll, there’s no doubt that being the most expensive signing this summer in Europe, and the fourth most expensive in history, somewhat hurts Ibrahimovic’s ego and in his own mind, an insult to his ego and standing with the team.
Ibrahimovic is never satisfied, and does pose a problem. A team with him needs to play through him almost all of the time. That didn’t end will in Barcelona, who refused to bend to his will, and a La Liga championship after one season was all that was left from his time there. The Italian league and Italian football throughout the years seemed to be a much more suitable location for him. Paris, last season, was pretty close to what an Italian team looks like.
But now things are changing. Leonardo, with his Italian influence, is gone. So is Carlo Ancelotti. Ibrahimovic, which almost forces a situation in which he is bigger than the club, is not that vital, it seems anymore. Even though the partnership between him and Cavani can be devastating to opponents, because Cavani can play with his face towards the goal and come from behind to pick up what Ibrahimovic creates for him, the 31 year old Swedish striker, probably the best in the world, prefers somewhere where there is no doubt who is the main show.
It’s not about winning the Champions League, but it’s about being respected, uber-respected in Ibrahimovic’s case. A player who can’t stay anywhere for too long, because he loves the challenge, and he loves being the face of the club too much to let that power trip subside. It might also be the cause for him somehow ending his career a few years from now with a bitter taste in his mouth, knowing that there was something he missed out on, and only has himself to blame.