Zlatan Ibrahimović: Driven

Despite being on his second stint at Milan, I realized that I have never written a player profile for Ibrahimović. Part of the reason is that it is difficult to put him into words. He is part god, part legend, part footballer, and yet still painfully human. His skills are simply unquantifiable and I cannot think of another player who can do what he does. His unique blend of confidence and talent have seen plenty of controversy over the years, yet at the end of the day, he is still worshipped and beloved. Some call him arrogant, others say he is harsh, but his accomplishments show that he is simply driven.


Driven.

The legend that is Ibrahimović began in Malmö, Sweden, where he was born to a Bosnian father and Croatian mother, both of whom had emigrated to Sweden some years prior. They divorced when he was young, and his life was very difficult. He learned very early on that he had to fight for everything he needed – or take it. 


Ibrahimović at 8 years old

Football was his passion, despite being discriminated against for not being blonde-haired and blue-eyed or having a Swedish last name. Football was probably more prominent in his life than either of his parents. Most people in his situation would have broken and given in to a life of perpetual poverty and hard labor, if not worse. But his inner drive motivated and pushed him to overcome his circumstances and show everyone that he was not just another poor child from the wrong side of town.


Formative years at Ajax

He began playing football when he was six years old. His youth career began at Malmö BI, then FBK Balkan, and finally Malmö FF. When he was 15 years old, he nearly quit football, but his coach convinced him to continue. The world owes that coach a massive debt of gratitude. Ibrahimović was promoted to the senior team at age 18, and scored 16 goals for them in 40 appearances. Despite being scouted by Arsenal, amongst other clubs, two years later, he signed for Ajax.


Malmö, where his senior career began

After three years at Ajax, scoring 35 goals in 74 appearances, the Swede began his tour of the top Italian clubs by signing for Juventus. In his first season, he was awarded Serie A Foreign Footballer of the Year. It was also his first time being awarded Sweden's Guldbollen, the best Swedish footballer award. He would eventually score 23 goals in 70 appearances for the Bianconeri.


Please forgive me for having worn this jersey

When Juventus were relegated following the Calciopoli scandal, his agent threatened legal action to get him out of his contract, and Ibrahimović notoriously crossed the Derby d'Italia line to play for Inter, the team that benefitted most from the scandal, which included signing Ibrahimović for cheap. At Inter, he scored 57 goals in 88 appearances, winning Serie A Footballer of the Year as well as Serie A Foreign Footballer of the year for two years running.


"Shhh.... I was never here"

In 2009, he moved to Barcelona for a record fee of €69.5 million, and notably scored in each of his first five games, the only player to do that. However injuries and coaching decisions would see him limited to only 16 goals in 29 appearances. After controversially confronting manager Pep Guardiola, Barcelona loaned him to AC Milan. That is when our love affair with the giant Swedish striker began, despite having played for our two most hated rivals.


Guardiola's worst nightmare

In spite of the kinds of controversy that his storied career is riddled with, he was very successful and helped Milan to lift the 2010-11 Scudetto that first season. Milan made his deal permanent, and he started off the 2011-12 season by helping Milan win the Supercoppa against Inter. He finished the season with 28 Serie A goals in 32 matches, and was capocannoniere, Italy's top scorer. Oh yeah, and somewhere in those two years, he notoriously stuffed Gattuso into a trashcan and got in a fight with Oguchi Onyewu.


Making his mark at Milan

AC Milan's finances were a mess, and once again, Galliani opted to sell big players to try to make up his budget deficit. Despite offering to write Galliani a check to stay at Milan, Ibrahimović was eventually sold to French side PSG along with Thiago Silva in the summer of 2012, also known as the beginning of Milan's demise. However, Ibrahimović thrived in Paris. In his first season, he helped PSG win Ligue 1, was the top scorer and was named Player of the Year. He also became the first player to score for 6 different teams in the Champions League. The following season, he again won the league title, was top scorer, and Player of the Year. PSG would also win the Coupe de al Ligue and Trophée des Champions that season as well.


Bursting onto the scene in Paris

The following season, the 2014-15 season, he would reach his 100 goal mark for PSG, while they won all the trophies: Ligue 1, Coupe de France, Coupe de al Ligue and Trophée des Champions. His final season would see him help his team win the treble of Ligue 1, Coupe de France, and Coupe de la Ligue. He would finish with 38 league goals, top scorer for the season and also top scorer in a single Ligue 1 season. His total goal tally was 180 goals in all competitions over the four years. He infamously said goodbye by posting on social media, "I came like a King, I left like a Legend."


King. Legend.

Ibrahimović then went to Manchester United for the 2016-17 season on a free transfer, where he started breaking records for being old, including being the oldest player in the Premier League to score 15 goals. He also helped them win the FA Community Shield, the EFL Cup, and the Europa League. However, he sustained ligament damage to his knee toward the end of that season. He managed to return sooner than anticipated, and be the first player to play in the Champions League for 7 different clubs, but his 2017-18 season did not go nearly as well. His knee injury had taken its toll.


"Who are you calling old?"

In March of 2018, Manchester United announced they were mutually terminating his contract, followed the next day with the announcement that he had signed for the LA Galaxy in the MLS. Ibrahimović notoriously took out a full page ad in the Los Angeles Times that read, "Dear Los Angeles, You're Welcome." Truly, Los Angeles and the MLS had no idea what they had gotten themselves into. Despite his age and his injury, he dominated in this lesser league.


You're welcome.

He was named in the MLS Best XI that season, chosen for the MLS All Star game, awarded the Newcomer of the Year and also Goal of the Year awards. One of his goals was even nominated for the 2019 Puskás award for best goal. In the 2019 season, he broke the Galaxy record for the most goals scored in a single season, with 26 goals. He was also in the MLS Best XI again and chosen once again for the MLS All Star game. In November, he announced on social media that he would be leaving the Galaxy.

His knee injury at Manchester United had left him discouraged about the longevity of his career, but his time in the MLS made him realize that he was still up for more of a challenge. So when Boban and Maldini called, he was happy to return to AC Milan, the only club he has ever come back to. Returning in January of last year, his mentality, leadership and incredible skills were crucial in the resurgence of the club, particularly after the pandemic break. 


So much legend in one photo

Ibrahimović started smashing all of the records for old players while simultaneously inspiring his teammates, some of whom were literally young enough to be his children. This past season, he had many injuries and missed more than half of the games, yet was still Milan's top scorer with 15 goals and three assists. He was also instrumental in helping the team qualify for the Champions League again for the first time in seven years. He has signed a new contract for another season, despite a worrying knee injury that may require surgery this summer. However, if he is able to play on, his contract would see him play through his 40th birthday, an incredible feat for a striker.


Iconic

The striker has featured for Sweden's U18, U21, and senior national sides. He has 118 caps for Sweden since 2001, and recently returned to the team after having previously retired from international duty. He is Sweden's all time top scorer, with 62 goals, and has represented the team at two World Cups and four different Euro Championships. His outrageous 2013 bicycle kick goal against England was nominated for the 2013 Puskás Award. He has also won the Guldenbollen 12 times, a record, and even won it ten consecutive years. His list of individual achievements alone is a list of about 90, with many of them won multiple times.


Trying to figure out where he is going to put more trophies

How do you describe his playing style? I am not sure that they have invented the words for it. He is tall, strong, powerful, incredible in the air, with an intense drive to score. His martial arts training has made him incredibly agile and able to pull off acrobatic moves like no one else. He is incredibly accurate from the spot, but also a master of both passing and ball control. He can both draw and evade defenders, even if there are three of them hanging off of him. If ever there were a complete striker, he is it. But it is perhaps his mentality that is most notable. He has never let anything in life stop him from achieving greatness, and his teammates all know that they had better not, either. He gives new meaning to "tough love," yet all of this teammates credit and thank him for helping them to be better and more motivated. 


He never asks more of his teammates than he asks of himself

His notable controversies on and off the pitch would take a book or two to write about, which is convenient, because he has two books: I Am Zlatan and I Am Football. I suggest you read them both, they are fantastic. One of the controversies involved a statue that was raised in his honor at Malmö. When he purchased 23.5% of a rival club, Hammarby, Malmö fans defaced and set fire to the statue, which had to be removed. This is the level of passion that Ibrahimović brings, which can be a love-hate relationship. But that level of passion is fueled by his level of playing skills and commitment.


Family man

As a testament to how driven he is in life, he met his now wife and mother of his two children when he was 18. She was a model, ten years older than him, and way out of his league. Yet over twenty years later, she is still by his side. He has never let anything stop him, not poverty or neglect, not class or race, not injury, not journalists, not opposition players, referees, or coaches who didn't play him. Yet beneath the arrogance, he is actually quite humble. In his home, he hung a photograph of his feet, to remind his family of what they have and how they got it. He has also admirably financially supported youth sports, as well as supported other worthy causes as well.


He never lets anything stop him

He is described as cocky, arrogant. He talks about himself in the third person, describes himself as a lion. He might also be one of the most misunderstood champions in football. He has overcome incredible adversity. Yet at the end of the day, Ibrahimović is equal parts confidence and hard work. If you know how confident he is, then you know how hard he has worked to achieve everything that he has. Ibrahimović is a living legend because he is so driven.


This post inspired by the music of Queen's "I Want it All"


Zlatan Ibrahimović: Driven Zlatan Ibrahimović: Driven Reviewed by Elaine on 4:00 AM Rating: 5
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