The return of football (well, the Premier League) is only three weeks away. And with it, Zlatan Ibrahimović.
I’m curious to see how Zlatan fares in English football. It’s no secret that this is not a footballer arriving in his prime. At 35, Zlatan is a young man but an old footballer, with a lot of matches in his legs and miles on the clock. He is, however, a genuine superstar. And in a league awash with money but short on real star power, the arrival of someone like Zlatan is exciting.
Ibrahimović’s persona – and to a degree, his career – can be broken into two parts: his on-field excellence and his off-field eccentricities.
Zlatan has played for pretty much every major club in the game. His role-call of club reads like a who’s who of footballing institutions: Ajax, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain. And now, Manchester United.
It’s an incredible list, made even more so by the fact that Zlatan has won a league title at every one of those clubs – in his first season! The man guarantees trophies. He is a winner. A genuine world-class talent and, I’d argue, one of the game’s most underrated players. Even though the word ‘underrated’ is not something that many people would associate with Zlatan.
His arrival brings a star-power to the Premier League that has been sorely missing since the departures of Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez. He will also likely bring controversy. That’s the second part of Zlatan’s career – the part he is arguably most famous for – his legendary confidence/arrogance.
In his long career he has fallen out with various managers/coaches/teammates/clubs. His departure from Barcelona was particularly acrimonious, describing Pep Guardiola, the club’s then manager’ of not knowing how to best utilise his mercurial talents. In his autobiography, I am Zlatan, he said of Pep (renowned as one of the world’s best coaches) and his time at Barcelona: “He was not a man”. When referring to his part in the team, and Guardiola’s use of him, he said: “He bought a Ferrari and he drove it like it was a Fiat”.
He left a year later for AC Milan. After six months, he was fined, and injured, in a training ground spat with American centre-back and teammate, Oguchi Onyewu. Onyewu, a 6 foot 4 powerhouse of a man, had upset Zlatan in training. The swede retaliated with a two-footed, studs-up lunge described by the man himself as: “The very worst type of tackle”. Zlatan missed, and the two men squared up to one another. A melee ensued and Onyewu was left with a busted nose following a headbutt from Ibrahimović, while Zlatan picked up a broken rib.
Zlatan’s career is made up of a quite ridiculous trophy haul and a collection of similar such stories. He is one of the game’s true characters. And him, and his brand, are a PR coup for the Premier League – not just in terms of the quality he will undoubtedly bring but because of the personality he is. If last season was all about the feel-good story of little Leicester City, then you can be sure that the Swede already has his eyes set on this being the year of Zlatan. And if he can haul Manchester United to a first Premier League trophy in three years, you can bet he’s not going to let any of us forget about.
Welcome to England, Zlatan!