Zlatan Ibrahimovic – A Timeless Legend

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic has become the footballing equivalent of Clint Eastwood where things don’t happen to Zlatan but Zlatan happens to things. Arguably Sweden’s greatest-ever player, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been a prolific goal-scorer all his life. At every club, he has insane numbers.

After hitting his peak, Zlatan never went below 0.5 goals per appearance. His numbers speak for themselves. He also has an envious trophy cabinet. He has won a ton of trophies wherever he has played.

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In his 24-year career, Zlatan Ibrahimovic played for 9 different clubs. He never settled down at one club – his longest streak at a club was at AC Milan for 5 years but even that came in 2 spells. Zlatan didn’t need to be at a particular club to make an impact, he was a wandering superstar and yet he played for some of the biggest clubs in the World.

Known for his brash persona and outspoken personality on and off the field, Zlatan Ibrahimovic was included by UEFA in their list of the Best Players to have never won the Champions League.

Let’s take a look at the enigmatic Swedish forward’s career in detail.

Early Years and Malmo FF

Zlatan grew up with a lot of hardships, so he developed a tough personality growing up. He played for three different clubs in his youth days before finally making the grade at Malmo FF.

At Malmo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored 17 goals in 46 appearances. He suffered relegation from the Swedish club before winning promotion the very next year.

Zlatan’s mercurial talent attracted a lot of interest from clubs around Europe, especially Arsenal and Ajax. Zlatan famously turned down a chance to take a trial at Arsenal by saying his now famous quote “ Zlatan doesn’t do auditions”.

Ajax eventually landed the Swedish starlet for around €8m.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic stats at Malmo

Years1999-2001
Appearances46
Goals17
Honours

 

Ajax

At Ajax, Zlatan will be remembered the most for two crazy moments. The first one is pure genius, it came against NAC Breda, where he dribbled past 5 players before slotting the ball into the net. It won the Goal of the Year award from Eurosport viewers.

The second moment was a classic Zlatan moment, he was called up by his national team to face the Netherlands, where he ended up injuring his club teammate Rafael Van Der Vaart, who accused Ibrahimovic of injuring him on purpose.

Despite all the highs and lows, Zlatan’s star was on the rise with Ajax. He scored two goals on his Champions League debut against French Champions Lyon. In his first Champions League campaign, Ibra scored 5 goals. Zlatan won 2 Eredivisie titles with Ajax and a couple of domestic cups.

Zlatan Stats at Ajax

Years2001-2004
Appearances110
Goals48
Honours4

 

Juventus

Juventus signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic for €16m as he finally made a move to the Italian League, a league where his idol Ronaldo made a huge impact and one where he wanted to play because of his idol.

With David Trezeguet’s injury concerns, Ibrahimovic started the season with a bang. He scored 16 goals in the league as Juventus ran out as Serie A winners. Zlatan was also named Foreign Footballer of the Year in Serie A in his very first season.

Second season onwards Zlatan was given more of a creative role and with that role, his goals started to dry up but his assists stats went up. Juventus fans were not happy with the effort or the lack of effort Zlatan was putting in, especially in the big games.

He was barely noticeable for Juventus in the Champions League knock-out game and his influence in the league started to reduce as well.

After Juventus got caught up in the Calciopoli Scandal, they were stripped of their last two league titles and got relegated to Serie B. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was one of the first ones to jump the ship, as he took his talents to fellow Serie A club Internazionale.

Ibrahimovic stats at Juventus

Years2004-2006
Appearances92
Goals26
Honours2(Both titles revoked)

 

Inter Milan

The best €24.6m Inter Milan ever spent. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was a smash hit at Inter. He scored 15 goals in his first season as Inter won the Scudetto with a record 97 points. One of his first goals in the league for Inter came against their arch-rivals AC Milan in the “Derby Della Madonnina”.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic entered his peak years with his second season at Inter Milan. A Year where he scored 17 league goals in just 26 matches. A year where he won both the Serie A Footballer of the Year and the Serie A Foreign Player of the Year awards.

A year when he reportedly became the highest-paid player in the World as he extended his contract with Inter till 2013. Zlatan was just getting started.

Ibrahimovic started his third season with Inter like he ended his second season, with a trophy. Zlatan scored his penalty in the penalty shoot-out win over AS Roma in the Supercoppa Italiana. Against Bologna, Zlatan scored a goal that was voted Serie A Goal of the Year. Adriano’s cross was sensationally turned in by Zlatan using his back heel in mid-air.

Ibrahimovic top scored yet again for Inter, scoring 25 league goals and for the second consecutive year won the Serie A Player of the Year and Serie A Foreign Player of the Year awards. Ibra also made a hattrick of Scudetto wins with yet another league title.

Zlatan Stats at Inter Milan

Years2006-2009
Appearances117
Goals66
Honours5

 

Barcelona

Zlatan had a perfect start at Barcelona. It needed to be too. Barcelona paid £59m plus Samuel Eto’o for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The transfer fee was not an issue but Eto’o going the other way as part of the package was intriguing, considering Eto’o was a pivotal part of Barcelona’s recent success.

Zlatan won two trophies in his first two appearances for the club. His first appearance came against Athletic Bilbao in the Supercopa de Espana which Barca won 5-1 on aggregate. Zlatan’s next competitive appearance was in a 1-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk in the European Super Cup.

Not only that, Zlatan scored an incredible 11 goals and laid on 4 assists in his first 15 league matches. He ended the year with another trophy as Barca went on to win the FIFA Club World Cup against Estudiantes in December.

Sadly things started to go south for the Swedish marksman as Barcelona first exited Copa Del Rey in January at the hands of Sevilla despite Zlatan scoring in one of the legs and then got knocked out by Zlatan’s former team Inter Milan in the Champions League semi-finals. That defeat led to the end of his career at Barcelona as he had a bust-up with then-Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola.

Zlatan famously said to Guardiola “You bought a Ferrari, but you drive it like a Fiat”. There was no going back for Zlatan after that rift and he scored his final goal for Barca against Sevilla in a 3-1 defeat in the Supercopa de Espana in 2010. Despite the bad spell, Ibrahimovic still ended up with an impressive haul of 22 goals in 46 games for Barcelona.

Ibrahimovic stats at Barcelona

Years2009-2011
Appearances46
Goals22
Honours4

 

AC Milan

Zlatan Ibrahimovic moved to AC Milan initially on a season-long loan with an option to make the move permanent for €24m. Ibrahimovic’s mind was made up and he signed a 4-year contract straight away. The season that followed was classic Zlatan – genius and madness.

Ibrahimovic scored 14 and provided 12 assists in just 29 league games as AC Milan won the Scudetto. Zlatan got a 3-match suspension for getting the red card against Bari, he was given his marching orders for punching Bari defender Marco Rossi in the stomach.

If that wasn’t enough then Ibrahimovic got an additional 3-match ban for swearing at the assistant referee. All this in his first season.

After confirming his permanent move from Barcelona, Zlatan went on a tear for AC Milan in the 2011/12 season. Ibrahimovic scored an incredible 28 league goals and provided 8 assists in just 32 games, unfortunately, that still wasn’t enough to win the title as Juventus piped them to the Scudetto by only 4 points.

Ibra again found a way to get sent off that season, slapping Salvatore Aronica of Napoli in an off-the-ball incident. Vintage Ibrahimovic.

Despite showing early promise in the group stage and then squeezing past Arsenal in the first knock-out round, AC Milan and Ibrahimovic got knocked out by Zlatan’s former club Barcelona in the Quarters. All-in-all Zlatan finished with 35 goals in the season overall.

Zlatan Stats at AC Milan

Years2010-2012
Appearances85
Goals56
Honours2

 

Paris Saint-Germain

2012/13

Zlatan was a history-maker with PSG. In his first season, he won the Ligue 1 title with PSG, their third Ligue 1 title in history and the first one since 1994. Ibrahimovic also scored 30 league goals for PSG that season, a rare feat for a French team considering Jean-Pierre Papin was the last one to score 30+ goals in a season back in 1989/90 season. Zlatan scored some important goals for the club, twice in a draw against Marseille in the Le Classique derby and a hattrick away to Valenciennes.

Zlatan also finished the season as the top assist provider in the Champions League with 7 assists. He was voted Ligue 1’s Player of the Year award by UNFP(Union Nationale des Footballeurs Professionnels). Zlatan also got the no.10 jersey for PSG that season.

2013/14

Ibrahimovic signed a contract extension to keep him at the club till 2016. Ibrahimovic had another record-breaking season for PSG. He helped PSG to yet another Ligue 1 title, scoring 26 league goals in the process and topping the scoring charts for the second consecutive season. Zlatan also won his second consecutive Ligue 1 Player of the Year award.

In the Champions League, Zlatan scored a total of 10 times in just 8 games and despite his efforts, PSG crashed out of Europe in the Quarters yet again, this time by Chelsea. Zlatan scored an incredible 41 goals in all competitions for PSG thus breaking Carlos Bianchi’s 39 goals in a season record.

2014/15

Another season with PSG, another set of records broken. Zlatan and PSG won a historic domestic quadruple in 2014/15. PSG won Ligue 1, Coupe de France, Coupe de la Ligue, and Trophee des Champions.

Ibrahimovic scored 30 goals in 38 games for PSG that season. Guess what else he did that season? Yes, you guessed it right! Zlatan got himself sent off but this time in the Champions League against Chelsea in the 1st knockout round.

2015/16

Zlatan found a new record to break in his final season. Ibrahimovic became PSG’s all-time leading goalscorer in all competitions with 110 goals with 2 goals against Marseille in October. He along with PSG won the domestic Quadruple for a second successive year. Zlatan also won the Ligue 1 Player of the Year award that season.

It wasn’t all about titles that season for Zlatan, his scoring was off the charts as well. Zlatan remarkably scored 38 goals in just 31 Ligue 1 games thus breaking Bianchi’s record of 37 goals in one season record. In total, Zlatan Ibrahimovic finished with 50 goals in 51 games in all competitions.

Zlatan’s time at PSG was best described by his social media post just before his final league game “I came like a king, left like a legend”.

Zlatan Stats at PSG

Years2012-2016
Appearances180
Goals156
Honours12

 

Manchester United

Zlatan’s time at Manchester United was bitter-sweet. Zlatan scored a total of 29 goals in 53 appearances for Manchester United in all competitions in his brief 2-season stay at the club. Out of those 29 goals, 28 goals came in his first season at the club.

Zlatan won the League Cup and the Europa League with Manchester United in his first season. He scored twice against Southampton in the League Cup final and he was very influential for United in the Europa League before ligament damage in his right knee cut his season short.

Zlatan recovered and returned to the United squad in November of the 2017/18 season but by then he was phased out of the team. Ibrahimovic and United decided to mutually terminate the contract.

Ibrahimovic at Man Utd Stats

Years2016-2017
Appearances53
Goals29
Honours3

 

LA Galaxy

A very Zlatan stay at the MLS franchise. He came, he scored, he left. Zlatan scored 53 goals in 58 games for LA Galaxy. In his two seasons at the club, he was selected in the MLS All-Star Game, made the MLS Best XI, got awarded the MLS Best Newcomer of the Year Award and won the MLS Goal of the Year.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic also managed to take LA Galaxy to the semi-final of the MLS Cup Playoffs. Zlatan played two seasons in MLS and then decided to part ways. In a typical Zlatan way, this was his final statement “You wanted Zlatan, I gave you Zlatan. You are Welcome. The story continues….now go back to watch baseball”.

 

Years2018-2019
Appearances 58
Goals53
Honours

 

Return to AC Milan and Retirement

Zlatan returned to AC Milan one last time and in typical Zlatan way made an immediate impact despite being past his best. Zlatan became the oldest non-Italian player to score in Serie A. He also contributed and helped Milan win a Scudetto after 11 years in the 2021/2022 season.

Ibrahimovic scored 8 goals and provided 3 assists in the title-winning campaign. On 18 March 2023, Zlatan became the oldest goalscorer in Serie A history at the age of 41. At the conclusion of the season, Zlatan announced his retirement from football thus bringing down curtains on one of the most legendary careers.

 

Years2020-2023
Appearances78
Goals37
Honours1

 

Puskas Winner

Zlatan Ibrahimovic managed to win the Puskas Award for the Best Goal of the Year Award. He won the award while playing for his National team Sweden. Zlatan scored an acrobatic over-head kick with his back to the goal from 35 yards out against England in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifying game.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is also the all-time leading goalscorer for Sweden with 62 goals in 122 appearances.