Zlatan plus 10: Ibrahimovic must justify his status as Sweden’s only true superstar

The captain of Erik Hamren's side will have plenty to prove, despite a stunning season, as he looks to lead his nation out of a tough group in Ukraine and Poland
 Svend Bertil Frandsen
 Sweden Expert Follow on


Coming off the back of a career-best 28 goals from 32 Serie A appearances last season, only Zlatan Ibrahimovic's strongest critics will deny that the Sweden captain enters Euro 2012 in the form of his life.

If the Swedes are to advance from Group D, Ibrahimovic will be required to carry a large part of the goalscoring burden on his shoulders, and judging from his record, nobody could blame the Swedish fans for having high hopes that 'Blagult' could quickly turn into the tournament's dark horse.

The prolific striker has won no fewer than seven league titles in three different countries with four different teams. And has been Serie A top scorer twice with Inter and AC Milan.

To underline his merits he has twice been named in the Uefa team of the year, been Serie A player of the year three times and Swedish player of the year six times. But despite all of his credentials there are still those who claim that Sweden would be better off without Ibrahimovic, that Erik Hamren's talented and experienced squad would have a better chance of success at Euro 2012 without having to deal with his ego.

Thanks to his uncompromising style on the pitch and controversial behaviour off it, Ibrahimovic can be placed in the same category alongside players such as Eric Cantona, Paul Breitner and Johan Cruyff.


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These are players who constantly polarize opinion with half of their respective nation ready to worship them, while the other half try to find reason to dislike them.

Ibrahimovic's league record stands at roughly a goal every two games, but his ratio drops to almost one in three for the national side.

While his best performance in a Sweden shirt dates back to Euro 2004, when Lars Lagerback's men reached the quarter-finals, he has so far failed to taste glory in the Champions League.

At the same time, his greatest critics claim that his frequent mood swings spread negativity around a side who actually celebrated their greatest triumph of the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, a 3-2 win at home against Netherlands, without the services of Ibrahimovic.

But those who have followed his career closely will also have noticed that the charismatic star seems to have undergone a slight change in personality under Hamren's leadership.

After more than a decade with Lagerback at the helm, Hamren has launched a tactical revolution giving the striker the freedom to roam around as he pleases, and the 30-year-old thrives under the new system.

"I get the ball a lot more now. When I'm up there [as a lone striker], the balls are harder to receive," Ibrahimovic said. "Here, I get the chance to get the ball on my feet, turn around and attack with speed. That's what I want to do."

With their mercurial star pacified by the new coach's system, Sweden fans will be desperate for him to fire them to glory in Poland and Ukraine.

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