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Experts divided over Zlatan's successes

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Experts divided over Zlatan's successes
11:37 CEST+02:00
Few footballers divide opinion quite like the mercurially talented Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic and until the AC Milan star delivers on the international stage, that is unlikely to change.

In some quarters Ibrahimovic's obvious footballing gifts are almost worshipped but those who view him mostly from afar often accuse him of failing to step up when the going is at its toughest.

The pro-brigade insist that a player who has won titles with Ajax, Juventus (although both were later revoked), Inter Milan, Barcelona and AC Milan and commanded huge transfer fees to pass from one to another is one of the main reasons his teams have enjoyed such success.

But others claim that he only displays his talent against minnows and say his failure to win the Champions League or shine on the international stage proves he has his limits.

The statistics hardly clear up the debate.

Even Ronaldo, perhaps the greatest striker of them all, never won the Champions League and he 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.

Other great players such as Ryan Giggs and George Best never even played at an international tournament and Andriy Shevchenko has only played at one, the 2006 World Cup.

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

He has had positive moments in both, notably scoring a late equaliser against Italy at the 2004 Euros and a brace for Barcelona in a 2-2 draw away to Arsenal in the Champions League.

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 won seven league titles in three different countries with four different teams and was also part of the Juve side stripped of two more Serie A crowns.

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.

Barnaby Chesterman

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