GODbye, Zlatan Ibrahimovic!

zlatan ibrahimovic

On the last Sunday, 06/04/2023, football experienced another sad moment, the farewell of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Football will miss his presence on the pitch, always unforgettable for the quality of the star player, as well as for the character he created. And what a character! Join us as we follow the journey of the Swede.

Childhood

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the son of Bosnian parents. Due to the constant political insecurity in former Yugoslavia, Zlatan’s parents moved to Malmö, a city located in southern Sweden.

Ibrahimovic’s father was a Bosnian Muslim, while his mother was a Bosnian-Croat Catholic.

It’s worth noting that the mentioned nationalities were effectively created with the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the consequent instability of the region, given its multi-ethnicity, with the focal point being Mother Serbia, which brought together the Slavic peoples around its territory.

The Nordic countries were a known migration route for Balkan refugees and became the destination for the Ibrahimovic family. Thus, they settled there.

As one would imagine, considering his unique personality displayed to the world on and off the pitch, young Zlatan had a tumultuous childhood, filled with many events.

His parents arrived in the refugee district of Rosengard, which, despite being located in one of the most developed countries in the world, had its own difficulties.

Zlatan was a mischievous boy, having even committed various crimes when he was young. There are well-known stories, told by himself, in which he admits to stealing bicycles, riding them around and abandoning them anywhere in the city. Ibra even stole the bicycle of a mailman and the assistant coach of Malmö F.C, the club where he was discovered.

But it doesn’t stop there, young Zlatan was caught stealing items from a market, along with a friend. They were caught by the security guard and held there until his friend’s parents came to pick them up. Ibra avoided an even bigger problem by tearing up the notice made by the security guard, which was meant for his parents.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic - Que fim levou? - Terceiro Tempo

Malmö, the beginning of a successful journey

Zlatan has been with Malmö since the age of 14. Apparently, he hasn’t changed much over the years. Even in the youth categories, the Swede became known for disagreements with coaches and teammates, including an incident where he headbutted a teammate in the face, almost leading to his expulsion from Malmö. The victim’s father even organized a petition to force Ibra’s departure.

However, his father’s attempt didn’t succeed, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic continued with the Malmö team.

Despite being a traditional team in Sweden, Malmö was struggling in the second division of the national league in Zlatan’s first year as a professional player.

His impressive performances in the youth teams already hinted at what he was capable of. In the professional ranks, his beautiful displays and goals were crucial in returning Malmö to the elite of Swedish football once again. The young prodigy scored 12 goals, catching the watchful eye of Arsene Wenger, the coach of Arsenal.

In the top tier of the “Suecão” (Swedish league), Zlatan played only 8 games and scored 3 times, as the offers from abroad were so tempting.

Although Wenger expressed interest in the striker, it was Ajax who paid 7.8 million euros to have the rising star. Ibra was swapping Malmö for Amsterdam.

A volta de Ibra a Malmö pela Champions zerou a internet na Suécia

Ajax – From Sweden to the world

Ibracadabra arrived with the status of the signing of the 2001/02 season. The difference in level was enormous. Zlatan was leaving a nationally recognized club in a league that is not among the most competitive, for one of the greatest clubs in history, the four-time Champions League winners, Ajax.

Would Ibra be able to handle the difference in pressure and deliver a good performance? The answer is simple: yes.

During his time there, Zlatan became a two-time Dutch league champion and won the Dutch Cup. He played 110 games wearing the Ajax jersey, scoring 48 goals and providing 17 assists.

One of those goals remains in memory. A goal certainly approved by his ultimate idol, Ronaldo Fenômeno, which happened in 2004, in a match of the Dutch Championship against NAC Breda.

The star receives the ball in the midfield, and at the moment of control, it seems to slip out of his grasp. The opposing player attempts to steal the ball, but Ibra blocks him and wins the challenge. With the ball still under his control, he moves forward. From there, it’s hard to explain what happened. After six feints, threatening shots, he leaves five NAC Breda players and the goalkeeper clueless, calmly rolling the ball into the back of the net.

It was a completely absurd goal, where Zlatan showcased to the world all his greatest qualities. The physical strength to win challenges, his unique skill despite being nearly 2 meters tall, and his ability to finish in any situation. What a goal!

Ibra’s astonishing performances made the Dutch Championship too small for him, despite playing for one of the most traditional teams in the world.

In this way, he exchanged Amsterdam for Turin, amidst a rain of money.

Os gols, times e títulos de Zlatan Ibrahimovic | Goal.com Brasil

Image: Getty Images

Juventus – The consolidation of a star on the global stage

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was already known worldwide, and several teams wanted to have the Swedish player. The winner of the race for the striker was Juventus.

A long-time dream of Fabio Capello since their time together at Roma, Zlatan arrived in Turin at the beginning of the 2004/05 season, after Juventus paid a whopping 16 million euros for the 23-year-old talent.

He joined the stars of Juve, such as Del Piero, Trezeguet, Nedved, Buffon, Emerson, and many others.

Success was immediate, as in his debut season, he became a champion of Calcio (Italian league). With Del Piero and Trezeguet injured, it created an opportunity for the young Swede. He surpassed expectations and even drew interest from Real Madrid.

He scored 16 goals and provided 8 assists in 35 games during his first season at the club.

However, in the following season, he struggled to maintain his positive streak. He managed to score 10 goals and provide 9 assists, but without the consistent performances seen before.

Then came the dreaded 2006/07 season for Juventus. The team was accused and convicted of being involved in match-fixing scandals, leading to the revocation of their last two Scudetto titles. Ibra lost his Italian Championships, and Juventus endured Serie B for the first time in its history.

Needing to balance the books while being in Serie B and with a star-studded squad, Juventus sold the Swedish star to one of their biggest rivals, Inter Milan.

Ibrahimović em Turim... para assinar pela Juventus?

Image: AFP

Inter – Imperial Attack and the Relationship with Mourinho

In 2008, José Mourinho left England for Italy and landed on the blue side of Milan, at Internazionale.

Zlatan experienced one of the best moments of his career there. Forming a devastating attacking duo with Adriano “The Emperor” and under the guidance of José Mourinho, Ibra became the champion of the 2008/09 Scudetto (Italian league) and the top scorer of the competition.

He played 117 games, scored 66 goals, and provided 30 assists.

Despite leaving his mark in the club’s history, it marked the beginning of Zlatan’s fate when it comes to the Champions League.

Ibra was already one of the most high-profile players in the world and, like all top-level athletes, he had the desire to reach the pinnacle: winning the Champions League.

With that in mind, Zlatan didn’t hesitate when the offer from Barcelona came. At that time, the Catalan club was undeniably the best team in the world. With their “tiki-taka” playing style created by Pep Guardiola and being the reigning Champions League winners, Ibra believed this was the perfect opportunity to etch his name in the greatest European competition.

Mourinho confided in the star that he wished for his stay and assured Zlatan that they would become champions of the tournament, but he didn’t believe it.

Inter won't miss Ibra - Eurosport

Image: Imago

Barcelona – The Ego Clash with Pep Guardiola

Barcelona, the team of the moment, wanted to further strengthen their incredibly powerful squad. To have Zlatan alongside players like Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi, the Catalan club paid around 70 million euros for the striker, setting a transfer record at the time.

The expectations were sky-high. With almost the entire team at their peak and their characteristic possession-based style, creating numerous opportunities, it was imagined that Ibra would be the one to convert the chances created by Messi and company.

However, it didn’t live up to the expectations. In fact, it became evident that what would be Ibra’s worst season as an established player still yielded 22 goals and 13 assists in 46 games for Barcelona. He also won La Liga, achieving the impressive feat of winning the national league title in three different countries: the Netherlands, Italy, and Spain.

In the Champions League, the unexpected happened. In two epic matches, Ibra and Barcelona were eliminated by the team he had just left, Inter Milan.

In the first leg, the Italians won 3-1, carrying the advantage of being able to lose by up to one goal to progress to the final.

At the 28th minute, Thiago Motta, one of Mourinho’s key players, was sent off. The atmosphere at Camp Nou was that the tie would be resolved at any moment, but they didn’t count on Inter’s defensive quality and Mourinho’s absolute skill in “parking the bus.”

Barcelona managed to win the second leg 1-0 but it wasn’t enough to secure qualification. Ibra saw his dream fading away while the club he had just left to pursue his dream became champions after defeating Bayern Munich 2-0 in the final.

Guardiola and Zlatan truly didn’t get along. Ibra claimed that Pep didn’t know how to use him correctly and even made statements like, “When you buy me, you are buying a Ferrari. If you drive a Ferrari, you put premium gasoline in the tank, you hit the motorway, and you step on the gas. Guardiola filled up with diesel and took a spin in the countryside. He should have bought a Fiat.”

In another interview in 2013, the controversial Swedish striker also said, “Every time I entered the coffee room, he exited. When he passed by me in the corridor, he looked down. He’s not a man. He may be the best coach in the world, but I don’t care. One day, I exploded and confronted him in the dressing room. Even then, he wouldn’t speak to me.”

Thus, his stay at the club became untenable. With the exorbitant fee of 70 million euros paid for Zlatan just one season earlier, Barcelona saw no other option but to loan him out.

The Swedish star’s destination was Milan once again, but this time on the Rossoneri side. Zlatan signed a loan deal with AC Milan for a fee of 6 million euros.

Ex-auxiliar de Mourinho na Inter revela como Ibrahimovic acabou no Barcelona e conta bastidores do 'Special One' - ESPN

Image: Getty Images

Milan – The First Stint and the Beginning of a Love Story

Ibra arrived at Milan under skepticism. Barcelona had paid an exorbitant fee for the star player, yet they hadn’t achieved their main objective, which was winning the Champions League.

Adding to that, Zlatan always seemed to clash with his coaches wherever he went.

However, all the doubts were silenced by a sensational spell at Milan. There was an incredible synergy between Ibra and the Milanese fans. He formed a lethal striking partnership with Robinho.

They became champions of the Scudetto that season, which would be Milan’s last league title for the next 10 years until the star returned to where he feels most at home, but that’s a story for later.

During his first stint, he played 85 matches and scored 56 goals, once again increasing his market value, leading Milan to exercise their option to buy him permanently.

Com boa atuação de Pato, Milan bate Napoli em 'decisão' e abre vantagem | globoesporte.com

Image: Reuters

PSG – Supreme Idol in Paris

Ibra mentioned several times that his intention was to stay at Milan, but it didn’t happen.

Milan was facing financial difficulties, which led them to demand a high fee from PSG to secure the services of the Swedish striker. Unexpectedly, the demand was met.

PSG paid €21 million for Ibra, who was already 31 years old at the time.

Despite his advanced age, his football prowess was unquestionable. Zlatan became the face of the new era at PSG. After the acquisition by QSI (Qatar Sports Investments), the returns were immediate.

It was the club where Ibra played the most. He appeared in 180 matches, scoring 156 goals and providing 61 assists.

PSG hadn’t won Ligue 1 since the 1994/95 season, but with Ibracadabra’s arrival, a streak of titles began, with him being a key figure in 4 championship triumphs.

He was revered at the Parisian club. However, that was not enough for him. Like a lion, as he likes to call himself, he sought more and more challenges, which led him to venture into unknown territory: the Premier League.

Ibrahimovic anuncia que está de saída do PSG: 'Saio como lenda' - Lance!

Image: Franck Fife / AFP

Manchester United – Lions don’t compare themselves to humans

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was not satisfied with a successful career; he sought greater challenges.

Moreover, to be frank, he was absolutely tired of the French League, having criticized the league and its referees on several occasions.

“I don’t know any players in the French League, but they all know who I am.”

“In 15 years, I had never seen a referee like this. This damn country. This country doesn’t deserve PSG.”

Therefore, he decided to cross the English Channel and reach the land of the Queen for the first time in his career.

As usual in his career, his destination was another giant of world football, Manchester United. There, he found an old acquaintance whom he had enjoyed working with: José Mourinho.

Note that by this point, Ibra was already 35 years old, an age at which most players are finishing their careers or moving to less competitive leagues with high salaries to secure a comfortable retirement.

But it was different for him. He waited for his contract to expire and moved to the red side of Manchester.

Once again, doubt surrounded him. He had left one of the least competitive leagues in Europe for the opposite. Would he be able to perform?

The answer is: yes. He played 51 games, scored 29 goals, and won 3 titles. The Community Shield, the English League Cup, and the Europa League.

When asked who the best striker in the English League was, he mentioned that Lukaku and Aguero are great players. The reporter, not understanding why Zlatan didn’t mention his own name, asked: What about you?

He replied, “Lions don’t compare themselves to humans.” Another memorable quote from this unique character.

Not everything was smooth sailing. Despite his impeccable physical condition, in a match against Anderlecht in the Europa League, he jumped for a header and, upon landing, ruptured his knee ligaments. A serious injury, especially for a player between the ages of 35 and 36.

But he couldn’t stop there. He felt that his mission in football had not been fully accomplished.

He recovered and headed to the New World, the United States of America.

LA Galaxy still keen on Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but former Man Utd striker wants Europe stay | Football News | Sky Sports

Image: Sky Sports

Los Angeles Galaxy – LA has a new King

After his contract with Manchester United ended, he headed to North America.

The numbers speak for themselves. Despite not winning the MLS title, Zlatan’s quality compared to other players in the competition was undeniable. At 36 years old, he scored 53 goals in 58 games.

Although the team’s performance was not as expected, Zlatan’s arrival was of great value to football in the USA as a whole. Once again, the spotlight was on the world’s largest economy, largely due to the impactful statements made by the star.

There are rumors that Lakers’ superstar LeBron James sent a team jersey to Zlatan as a welcome gesture. The Swedish player, in return, autographed the jersey and sent it back to LeBron.

He also stated, “I’m very grateful to the MLS because they gave me a chance to feel alive. But the problem was that I was still very much alive. So, I was too good for the entire competition. That’s what I showed…”

“You never know, maybe one day I’ll come back to remind them of what real football is.”

Feeling so alive, he once again embarked on the final challenge of his career.

Can Zlatan Ibrahimovic lead LA Galaxy to MLS play-offs? | Football News | Sky Sports

Image: Sky Sports

Milan – The final act

The prodigal son returns. As mentioned before, Zlatan, after his first stint with Milan, had hoped to continue there, but the club’s financial situation forced his move to PSG.

Thus, 10 years later and at the age of 38, he returned to where he felt most at home.

Milan had been suffering from a drought of titles. Juventus had been stacking up Serie A victories in recent years. When it wasn’t Juventus, it was even worse. Inter won the Scudetto in 2020/21.

The last time the Rossoneri had lifted the Scudetto was in 2010/11, coincidentally during Zlatan’s previous tenure with the club.

The crowning moment of such a splendid career could not be any different. Zlatan Ibrahimovic leads Milan to their 19th Scudetto, 10 years after his previous triumph, and once again, he was at the forefront.

In his championship speech, Zlatan moves everyone by thanking each of his teammates, the fans, and emphasizing that Milan doesn’t only belong to Milan but to the entire Italy.

During his second stint, he played 78 games and scored 37 goals, even while being between 38 and 41 years old.

Calhanoglu blasts Ibrahimovic's need to be 'centre of attention' in rant against former AC Milan team-mate | Goal.com

Image: Getty Images

Sweden National Team

Since his childhood, Ibrahimovic’s intention was to play for the Bosnia-Herzegovina national team, which didn’t happen.

However, with a lot of love and ups and downs, he became the ultimate idol of the Sweden National Team. He is their all-time leading scorer with 62 goals and has delivered incredible performances.

One of those performances was in Miroslav Klose’s farewell match. Germany was leading 4-0, but Ibra and his teammates managed to secure a historic comeback and draw the game.

There is also his unforgettable bicycle kick goal from almost midfield against England.

He participated in two World Cups.

Ibrahimovic vai dar adeus à seleção da Suécia após a Eurocopa - Jornal O Globo

Image: Fredrik Sandberg/AP

Zlatan as a Character and the End of his Journey on the Field

He began his professional career in 1999 and bid farewell to the game only in 2023. It was 24 years of giving his best.

Many things can be said about Ibra, but it is impossible not to acknowledge his total commitment to football. He always maintained impeccable physical condition and gave his all on the field, as if it were his last game.

His numbers are impressive. He played 988 matches, scored 573 goals, and won 31 titles. Throughout his career, except for Malmoe and LA Galaxy (the beginning and end of his career), he played only for world giants and left his mark in the history of each one of them with goals, titles, and provocations.

One could write a book solely about the controversial episodes involving the superstar, as some have already been mentioned here. Who could forget the kick to Cassano’s head during the celebration of the 2011 Scudetto? Or the slap to Boateng’s head in the same year?

When the Bournemouth defender intentionally stepped on his head and in the following play, he delivered an elbow to his face.

It’s impossible to forget the Taekwondo-style kick he unleashed on Materazzi, who had injured him in 2006. Ibra waited four years to exact his revenge by launching a flying kick at the defender.

His footballing ability is beyond dispute. Unfortunately, he couldn’t win the Ballon d’Or or conquer the Champions League. But Ibra is bigger than that. He personifies a successful bad boy, a provocateur, a winner.

What will be the next challenge for this black belt in Taekwondo?

Ali's Fan and Taekwondo Black Belt: How Ibrahimović Used His Martial Arts Skills in Football

Image: Telecom Asia

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Written by Vitor F L Miller

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Tags: Protagonists, Highlights

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