Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Ridiculous Career in 10 Slides
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the very definition of a Marmite footballer. You either love him or hate him.
To his admirers he is one of the world's most sublimely talented footballers who does not get the recognition he deserves. To his detractors, he is a preening egotist who goes missing when it really matters.
The truth, as is usually the case, can be found in the middle ground. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, the AC Milan striker is an enigma, wrapped inside a genius, wrapped inside an idiot.
His autobiography, the humbly titled I Am Zlatan, was released last year. The launch of an app in support of that book this month gives us the perfect opportunity to look back on his unique and eventful career.
"Zlatan Doesn't Do Auditions"
A young Ibrahimovic signed his first professional terms at Malmo as a teenager. After three seasons as the Allsvenskan club, top clubs all across Europe were eyeing up this tall striker who mixed strength with balletic grace.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger invited the 21 year old to London, but when the player turned up he was aghast to discover that he was not to engage in talks to join the Gunners, but merely to have a trial.
Ibra baulked at such a notion and his agent put his client on the first plane back to Sweden, telling Arsenal, "Zlatan doesn't do auditions."
"I Want to Play the Ball Between Zlatan's Legs"
Arsenal's loss was Ajax's gain. Ibrahimovic joined the Dutch side in the summer of 2001, and in three seasons in Amsterdam he won two Eredivisie titles, scoring 35 goals in 74 league games.
However, his spell at the Dutch giants was not all easy sailing. In what would become something of a theme, Ibrahimovic fell out with teammate Rafael van der Vaart after he injured the Dutch midfielder with a bad tackle during an international friendly in 2004, some believe deliberately. Ibra was sold to Juventus just three games into the new season.
When AC Milan met Tottenham Hotspur last season in the Champions League, Van der Vaart said, "First of all I want to win. Second, I want to play the ball between Zlatan's legs. That would be a very nice bonus."
Van der Vaart got his first wish as Spurs knocked Milan out and reached the quarterfinals at their expense.
"You Can't Be Nice in This Sport"
At Juventus it was more of the same for Ibra, two more titles and more rows with teammates.
The striker, now an established star in Serie A, punched Jonathan Zebina in the face in a dressing room bust-up. When Lillian Thuram tried to intervene, manager Fabio Capello chastised the veteran defender, screaming, "Shut up and leave him alone." He later backed his star striker's conduct despite both players being fined, saying, "It was good for the team."
In his book, Ibra also reveals a run in with Patrick Vieira (though anyone could have put two and two together and come up with that outcome). "You can't be nice in this sport," Ibrahimovic said. "We showed that we both were winners."
After two title-winning seasons (both of which were later revoked as the true fallout of the Calciopoli matchfixing scandal took hold), Ibra was on the move again, to Inter Milan this time.
Not long after joining Inter, Ibrahimovic joined up with the Sweden national team for a European Championship qualifier with Liechtenstein.
Two days before the game, he broke curfew along with international teammates Christian Wilhelmsson and Olof Mellberg and went to a nightclub. Unsurprisingly, they got caught and manager Lars Lagerback punished them by banning them from playing in the game.
Wilhelmsson and Mellberg took their punishment on the chin, but not Zlatan. He took umbrage at being disciplined in such a manner and refused to play for six months.
So far we have dwelt upon the negatives of Ibrahimovic's career, but there were plenty of occasions when he exhibited his brilliance too.
His three years at Inter Milan were probably the most consistently prodigious of his career. Again, he won the title in every season he was at the club, scoring 57 goals in 88 Serie A games across those three campaigns.
His finest moment probably came in his second year at the Stadio Guiseppe Meazza for the 2007-08 campaign. He returned from six weeks out due to injury on the final day of the season to score both goals in a 2-0 win at Parma, which secured the title for the Nerazzurri.
"Come to My House with Your Sister"
Ibrahimovic then moved on to Barcelona in one of the most blockbusting transfer deals ever. He joined Barca for the fee of £40 million, with striker Samuel Eto'o moving the other way as a £20 million makeweight in the deal. At the time, it was the most valuable transfer deal ever made.
While Ibra only stayed for a year at the Nou Camp, all those looking in from the outside certainly got their money's worth.
One eagle-eyed member of the paparazzi snapped Ibra enjoying what looked like a tender moment with teammate Gerard Pique (h/t Yahoo!), leading to a flurry of rather tongue-in-cheek Internet rumours that the pair were an item.
When one female TV presenter questioned him about his sexuality as he was in his car, Ibra uttered the immortal line, "Come to my house with your sister and see if I'm queer."
"You Bought a Ferrari but Drive It Like a Fiat"
Ibrahimovic was brought in by Barcelona ostensibly to be the missing piece of the puzzle. With Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta et al, Barca were chock full of small, nippy technical players. What they needed was a large presence up front who could offer a Plan B if teams were successful in frustrating them.
Zlatan was certainly a large presence, but not in the way Pep Guardiola would have hoped. Despite scoring 16 goals in 29 league games and Barca winning the title, he was proving unpopular with just about everyone: the fans, the media, his teammates but most of all with Guardiola.
The two fell out in spectacular fashion after a meeting that was set up to try and clear the air between them. Instead, the enmity was laid bare, as he recounts in his book:
"I told him what a friend had said to me—'you bought a Ferrari but drive it like a Fiat'. The chat seemed to go well but then Guardiola started to freeze me out.
"I would walk into a room; he would leave. He would greet everyone by saying hello, but would ignore me.
"I had done a lot to adapt—the Barca players were like schoolboys, following the coach blindly, whereas I was used to asking 'why?' I like guys who run red lights, not pedantic and strict rules."
After a year in which Barcelona won the title but were beaten in the Champions League by an obdurate Inter, AC Milan offered to take Zlatan off their hands and Barca leapt at the opportunity.
Back in Italy, Ibrahimovic thrived once more. For Milan he scored 14 goals in 29 Serie A appearances and reached double figures for assists in the competition.
Although they were knocked out of Europe by Tottenham in the last 16 of the Champions League, the season ended with Milan claiming their first Scudetto for seven years.
That title was Ibrahimovic's eighth in a row, including the two later revoked while at Juve, but nevertheless an incredible run that takes in five clubs in three different countries.
The Karate Kid
Of course, even with that success, Ibra must always do something to remind the world that he is the big man on campus.
A black belt in tae kwon do, the Swede has never been afraid of showing off his martial arts skills.
In one of his first weeks at Milan, he decided to to do just that by skulking behind new teammate Rodney Strasser and giving him a friendly kick to the shoulder. Just, you know, because he can.
Not resting on his laurels, he then celebrated Milan's Scudetto win by booting Antonio Cassano right in the head as his strike partner was giving a live TV interview.
Gunning Down Arsenal
Football followers all over the globe have a right to be sceptical about Ibrahimovic's talents, but there can be few nations in which he is held in lower esteem than England.
Time and again he would under perform against English opposition, whether it would by in club football or in the international arena.
Even his brace in the 2-2 Champions League draw at Arsenal, which included a fine lob over the keeper, could not convince those in Britain that he was the real deal.
However his recent performance, again against Arsenal and again in the Champions League, has made some reappraise that verdict.
Ibra was dominant in the 4-0 last-16 first-leg win over the Gunners, the club he could have joined a decade ago, at the San Siro. The visiting team may have been poor, but Ibra wreaked havoc upon them with a devastatingly skillful and creative match, rounded off by his penalty to surely put the tie beyond Arsenal.