What Does Zlatan Ibrahimovic Need to Happen in 2013 to Win the Ballon d'Or?
Even though 2012 was a superb year by Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s own high standards, 2013 could be even better.
He enters the calendar year in superb form and on the back of 12 months in which he netted 46 goals in 48 games for AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Sweden. At 31 years old, the towering Swede is at the peak of his powers.
However, one thing is missing from an impressive CV that boasts title successes and top-scoring accolades from across the Netherlands, Italy and Spain—European success at the highest stage.
Arguably without that success, Ibra will never be considered a true great—at least not by himself—and the opportunity to be part of a team who can win the Champions League was a big part of why he joined PSG.
Now in prime scoring form and ready to take on the burden of leadership when others can’t step up to the plate, Ibrahimovic is ready to launch his assault on Europe in chase of the Ballon d’Or.
But to do it, he is going to need a few things to happen.
Maintain Impressive Scoring Tally
First and foremost, he needs to keep scoring goals as consistently as he did in 2012.
Eighteen goals and three assists in 16 appearances is a tremendous start to life in a new country and a new league. Add in his two goals and five assists in the Champions league and you start to get the picture of a player who has developed an ability to play for the team.
The Swede sees himself as a player who can improve year on year, but he will need a career year to better his last. Forty-six goals in 48 games places him behind only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in Europe.
A quick start to 2013 and Ibra could realistically keep pace with the La Liga-based duo.
Single-Handedly Lead PSG to the Champions League Final at Least
Secondly and most importantly, Ibrahimovic has to win something big.
Arguably, only Champions League victory or at least a berth in the final will get him even close to being in the reckoning for world football’s top individual accolade.
A treble, including a domestic double and Champions League success would be unprecedented for PSG, but the Swede’s creative and unselfish form has the club dreaming of success.
While it's arguably too early in the project for the capital club to enjoy European success, Ibra is primed to make his biggest impact yet.
The fact that there is no competitive summer International tournament (only Confederations Cup) makes the playing field more level for the Swede.
PSG to Finally Click
Ibrahimovic will not be able to do this all on his own, though; he will need help from his teammates.
PSG have hardly looked coherent this season, with Ibra single-handedly leading the side to victory at times. Is new signing Lucas Moura the missing piece?
The Brazilian, by all accounts, is the player who the PSG hierarchy have been waiting for. So if he adapts as smoothly as possible, his role in striking up a rapport with Zlatan will be key.
Answer His Critics
It will take a mammoth effort to drag PSG into the latter stages of the Champions League, but only that would definitively answer some of Zlatan’s critics.
Regularly maligned for being a flat-track bully who dominates smaller teams but does not deliver against bigger opposition, Ibra has been spurred into adapting his game in the past few seasons.
Now in a league that is often not given enough credit for its strong, well-organised defences and physical opposition, the Swede has put this into practice.
Also criticised for being unable to be part of a team who can win the Champions League, Ibra is desperate to succeed in Europe.
Arguments that his dominant role as the focal point of any side ends up defeating his team’s quest for the title are backed up at least historically. But if the team is now built around Lucas Moura, will that freedom empower Zlatan?
Hope for Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and Co. to Have a Bad Year
It could all be futile, though, if Lionel Messi and his Barcelona teammates enjoy another stellar year.
Cristiano Ronaldo will be waiting in case the Argentine is off the pace, but in all likeliness, Ibra will have to usurp Messi and Barca to ensure success.
Even then, Ibra has no international tournament with Sweden this summer, so combining club and international achievements is not possible.
Ibrahimovic needs to conquer Barcelona at some point to ensure that his achievements in 2013 are beyond doubt.
Can He Do It?
The facts suggest that he is facing an uphill battle and will likely be disappointed in his quest.
But if any player has the determination to succeed in this challenge on current form it would appear to be Ibrahimovic.
The last Ligue 1 player to win the prestigious award was Marseille's Jean-Pierre Papin in 1991, which illustrates just how big a feat it would be if he could pull it off.
This triumph requires a tremendous level of individual contribution, and given his group stage Champions League showing, he is ready for that where it matters most.
Once again, though, it was against smaller teams, so now he must maintain the same creativity in the group stages.
Football is a beautiful game made more appealing by stories of great players, individual and team achievements. If Ibra can pull this off, it would be one of European football’s most memorable success stories.
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