This idea has mainly been disseminated by British journalists focused solely on the Champions League and, in particular, games against English clubs. In this regard, some criticism is certainly justified. Indeed, Ibrahimovic has netted just twice in 13 games against Premier League opponents—not including his goal for Sweden against an England national team composed almost entirely of EPL players in 2004. But writing Ibrahimovic off on the basis of a baker’s dozen of games does him a huge disservice.
Firstly, Zlatan has repeatedly proven his abilities against Europe’s top clubs at domestic level. Secondly, how “big” a game is does not solely depend on the opposition, but also the context.
Take for example his two goals for Inter after coming on as a substitute against Parma in the final game of the 2007-08 Serie A season. After several weeks out through injury, Ibrahimovic turned the match in the second half and secured the title for the Nerazzurri.
He is also something of a derby-game expert. In 2007 Ibrahimovic scored the winner for Inter in a 2-1 victory over AC, a feat he repeated in this season’s Supercoppa, but this time for the Rossoneri. Add to that a match-winning penalty he had won himself against the same opposition last season, and the “big-game flop” argument doesn’t look so watertight.
If there’s a bigger match in European football than the Milan derby, it’s probably Barcelona against Real Madrid. In his first Clásico, Ibrahimovic sealed victory for his new club with a beautiful sidefoot volley just five minutes after coming off the bench. That alone is normally enough to assure club legend status at the Camp Nou, something Ibra never really achieved. But more on that later.
Coming back to that record against English clubs, Ibrahimovic finally broke his duck when he scored twice against Arsenal at the Emirates for the Catalan side in the 2009-10 Champions League quarter-final first leg. Another Barcelona player had received similar criticism the previous season for being a “bottler” against English teams, having, like Zlatan, gone ten scoreless games against such opposition. You don’t hear so much criticism of Lionel Messi these days, though.