Enigmatic, mercurial, talismanic, a great lumbering donkey.
These are just some of the many words and phrases that have been used to describe Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, one of the most controversial and divisive footballers of his generation.
Often seen as an undeniably gifted player but one who struggles to perform on the biggest stage, Ibrahimovic will once again have the beady-eyed glare of world football upon him when he assumes his role as captain of the Swedish national team at this summer’s European Championships. Bwin offer odds of 3/2 on him to finish as Sweden’s top scorer at the tournament.
But is this perception of Ibrahimovic as a big-game bed-wetter a fair one? And even if it has been the case in the past, is he likely to shed this reputation at Euro 2012?
The ruthless beast that is the English media have never really taken to ‘our Zlatan’ and he has long been perceived as a player who consistently fails to live up to the hype, which is often of his own making.
He scored a formidable 33 goals in 44 games last season, including an imposing performance, at last, against English opposition as Milan swept Arsenal aside 4-0 in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash.
In the modestly-titled autobiography ‘I Am Zlatan’, he came out with such equally modest statements as “I don’t need a Golden Ball to demonstrate that I am number one” and “I’d like to think I’m a spectacular player, a guy who can do extraordinary things”.
A record of just three goals in 15 appearances against English sides, including a string of indifferent displays, have not given much weight to these “extraordinary” claims.
It’s easy to understand his negative reputation on these shores, however, particularly with a media who think everything revolves around the Premier League. But if you were to ask about his reputation in Italy, for example, the question would garner a very different response.
Speaking last year, Gazzetta dello Sport’s Alessandra Bocci quipped: “Serie A is a tournament in which various teams compete. Then at the end Zlatan Ibrahimovic wins.”
While for once this wasn’t the case during the 2011-2012 campaign as Juventus pipped AC Milan to the title, Ibrahimovic had one of the best seasons of his career so far.
He scored a formidable 33 goals in 44 games, including an imposing performance, at last, against English opposition as Milan swept Arsenal aside 4-0 in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash.
Sweden coach Erik Hamren has made the bold decision to move Ibrahimovic into a ‘free’ role just behind a main striker when playing for his country, but at odds of 3/2, he’s a decent bet to be Sweden’s top scorer at the tournament as he is still a major goalscoring threat even from a more withdrawn position.
He is likely to be the driving force behind the majority of Sweden’s attacks and this new position may just be the thing he needs to allow his undoubted talent to be expressed on the world stage.
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