Juve, Milan, Barca, PSG? Where Has Zlatan Ibrahimovic Played His Best Football?
Paris Saint-Germain’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic is on the verge of equalling his career-high season tally for goals. Currently with 27 for the season, he is one short of eclipsing last season’s total of 28 for AC Milan.
Domestically, it is another fine season for the Swede who is at the pinnacle of his game—and creatively, too, and not just in terms of the goals he scores.
A big part of Ibrahimovic’s game is laying on goals for other players, not just scoring himself. If we take that into account, we are witnessing a player in his prime and capable of hitting high levels of productivity since his time at Inter Milan.
But the big question is where has Ibrahimovic played his best football?
Ibrahimovic arrived at Juventus in 2004, joining from Ajax. Although the Swede made a good first impression with 16 league goals in his first full season at the club, he was far from a complete player.
His second campaign was less impressive, but that was in part due to a change in role after the Juve hierarchy decided he was better suited to being a target man. The Swede only managed seven goals that season, and although he started to provide more for his teammates, it was a largely forgettable season.
At the end of the 2006 campaign, Juventus were demoted to Serie B because of their role in Calciopoli and stripped of the two titles Ibrahimovic had won there. A messy divorce followed, but as we will see, the Swede’s exit from Turin proved to be the making of him.
From Juventus, Ibrahimovic joined Italian rivals Inter Milan. Patrick Vieira had made the same move just days earlier and joined the defending champions, thanks to Calciopoli’s redistributed title.
His first season in Milan was a massive improvement on his last at Juventus, he notched 15 goals while providing three assists as he started to become more of a creative presence for the team.
That would continue into his second season where he made huge strides in his ability to function as the focal point of a side’s attack, laying on nine goals, but also scoring 17. Inter secured the Serie A title in both seasons under Roberto Mancini.
Jose Mourinho replaced the Italian, and Ibrahimovic went on to have his most prolific domestic season of his career with 25 goals and seven assists in 2008-09, maintaining a high level of productivity and setting the standard for the season to come.
That success in Italy did not translate on the European stage, though, and Ibrahimovic moved to Barcelona in part of an exchange for Samuel Eto’o who went on to win the Champions League the following season with Mourinho’s Nerazzurri.
Ibrahimovic arrived in Barcelona in 2009 amid much fanfare, but the solitary season that followed in Spain is largely thought of as a failure.
The Swede scored 16 league goals, in a new country and playing a totally different style of football. On top of that, he also provided seven assists for a team that boasts the creative talents of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta. That's no small feat.
Ibra’s spell in Barcelona ended abruptly, though, opting to return to Italy with AC Milan to end a difficult period, despite leaving as a league and Club World Cup winner.
A return to Milan after just one year did not mean a return to previous form immediately. In his first season back in Milan, he was not as prolific as he was in previous seasons, actually posting his lowest league goals tally since his time at Juventus with 14.
Curiously, though, it was also his most productive season, with the Swede notching 11 assists. AC Milan won the title that season.
The next campaign, though, is arguably one of Ibrahimovic’s two best seasons to-date. He scored 28 goals, also laying on six, undoubtedly the focal point of the team’s attack.
It was his best showing since 2008-09 with bitter rivals Inter, recognised by being the top scorer for the first time since that season. It also earned him the 2012 Golden Foot amongst other awards.
That form paved the way for a move to French giants Paris Saint-Germain where he currently plays, and with two matches left this season, Ibra is on the verge of equalling last year’s 28-goal total.
With one assist more, the Swede is on course for his most successful season to-date, statistically. However, his inconsistency has detracted slightly from his achievements in Paris so far.
That does not mean he has not played his best football in the French capital, though.
Like at Milan, Ibrahimovic is responsible for dragging the team, almost single-handedly at times, to victory.
He will also likely sweep the player of the year award as the first player in Ligue 1 to come close to tipping the 30-goal mark since Marseille’s Jean-Pierre Papin in 1990.
To make a proper decision, you also have to factor in European football.
Ibrahimovic’s three goals and seven assists in nine games this season with PSG is equalled, perhaps, only by last season’s contribution for Milan with five goals and four assists in eight matches.
Ibra scored more with Milan, but also only reached the quarterfinals where they lost to Barcelona. PSG were eliminated at the same stage, by the same team, earlier this season.
It is difficult to split the two as it is clear that the 31-year-old is in his prime and has hit a productive peak. Equally capable of scoring goals and providing them, the Swede set the standard for a good season as early as 2008-09 and only deviated because of a change of country and style of play.
That he has overcome this as fast as he has in Ligue 1 is a big achievement and suggests that his time at PSG, so far, has just eclipsed his previous showings, solely on the value of having adapted to a new new league so quickly.
Responsible for 43 percent of his side’s goals this season, Ibrahimovic has embraced his role as the focal point of the team and is thriving in the French capital.