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Zlatan Ibrahimovic: still hunting for European football glory

Published: 17 Jul 2012 23:19 GMT+02:00
Updated: 17 Jul 2012 23:19 GMT+02:00

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a larger than life character and immensely talented but he is going to have to break a habit of a lifetime if he is to fulfill Paris Saint Germain sporting director Leonardo's prediction of "writing history" for the club.

For in "writing history" Leonardo is thinking of more than a league title - something that PSG haven't managed since 1994 - more in the line of a Champions League and that is where Ibrahimovic comes up short on his CV.

Ibrahimovic has had no trouble in adding league title medals wherever his travels have taken him - four Serie A crowns, one La Liga and two Dutch - and with rather modest opposition in prospect in the forthcoming Ligue 1 season he should be assured of scoring a hatful of goals.

However, when it comes to European club trophies there is zero in his column and with him turning 31 in October time is running out for him to correct the impression that he rarely shows up when the competition moves up a gear.

Flat track bully is a term often used about him, though, he never seems to have lost faith in his own ability and what is seen as arrogance by others is cast as normal by the player himself.

The statistics hardly clear up the debate.

Even Ronaldo, perhaps the greatest striker of them all, never won the Champions League and the Brazilian played for Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan and Inter Milan, as well as PSV Eindhoven, during a glittering career.

However, he won the World Cup twice, finishing top scorer in one of those, and was World Player of the Year three times.

Sweden are not Brazil though and there can be no doubt Ronaldo benefitted from playing with far better players than Ibrahimovic does when he turns out for his country.

But Ibrahimovic has had plenty of opportunities to shine having played in two World Cups and three European Championships while he has played Champions League football in 10 straight seasons.

He has had positive moments, notably scoring twice in Euro 2012 last month including a terrific goal in the 2-0 win over France, which still saw them exit at the group stage, but he became a rare bird in scoring in three successive Euros.

But too often he has failed to find his best form when the glare of the watching world was upon him.

While his league scoring record is just over one in two, in Europe he scores less than one in three games.

He has only once been in a team that reached the Champions League semi-finals and his best performance with Sweden is the Euro quarter-finals in 2004.

His critics claim that when his teams need him to produce a spark on the big stage, he comes up short.

Yet, as Sir Alex Ferguson always says, the hardest thing to win is the league and Ibrahimovic has consistently performed in teams fighting for the title.

He has finished top scorer in Italy in two of the last four seasons, once each with Inter and Milan.

He's twice been named in the UEFA team of the year, been Serie A player of the year three times and Swedish player of the year six times.

For such a big man, he stands at 1.95m, he has quick feet with excellent touch and control.

He is as strong as an ox and an expert at holding up the ball and fending off defenders.

His practice of taekwondo has given him great flexibility and balance and he can strike the ball with searing power.

He has even added an improved workrate during his two years at Milan and seems less temperamental than during his younger years.

And his role in the current Swedish set-up as more of a playmaker than pure finisher means he gets more involved, sees more of the ball and can make better use of his talent.

But to finally silence the doubters, he still needs a defining moment at either international level or in the Champions League - Leonardo will be praying for that.

AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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