Zac Lee Rigg: Zlatan Ibrahimovic is no Mr. February

The Swedish striker traditionally struggles in February. Facing a three-match ban this month, the jinx looks set to continue.
Any purchase of Zlatan Ibrahimovic comes with two guarantees: one, your team will win the league, and two, he will hit an awful patch of form in February.

The Swede has won eight consecutive league titles in a surely unprecedented run spanning five clubs in three separate nations.

Simply put: Ibra is imposing.

At 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, the ponytailed, mustachioed striker tends to haul his teams to trophies single-handedly. Both Inter and Milan used formations that involved three defensive midfielders, relying on the now 30-year-old to handle that whole attacking thing largely on his own.

"When I think how a player should be, names like Kaka, Ibrahimovic and Messi come to mind,'' Jose Mourinho said in December 2008.

But even when no Serie A defense can cope, the one thing that can halt Ibra consistently is a February matchday.

Take a look at his goalscoring records.


Zlatan Ibrahimovic

* Note that the 2011-12 season, and indeed February, is still in progress. Additionally, note that all season totals include international play for Sweden.
Season February Goals
February Games
Total Goals
Total Games
0 4 6 25 Ajax
4 4 14 28 Ajax
0 0 16 31 Ajax
1 6 26 58 Juventus
3 6 10 33 Juventus
1 4 23 48 Inter
1 3 24 34 Inter
1 5 31 61 Inter
2 4 23 52 Barcelona
1 6 24 45 Milan
0 3 25 34 Milan
14 45 222 449  

Including his Sweden record, which is slightly worse than his club scoring rate, Ibrahimovic notches once every 2.02 games dating back to his move to Ajax in 2001. In that time, his scoring rate for February is once every 3.21 matches.

This year that bad run will continue. No goals in three matches paves the way for a three-match domestic ban. Against Napoli, Ibra cheekily reached out behind the head of Antonio Nocerino to slap Salvatore Aronica on the ear during one of those spells when a cluster of players butt chests and huff about an alleged offense. While sneakily avoiding the view of the referee, Ibra forgot about the line of vision of the linesman, who dutifully tattled to ensure Ibra's expulsion.

He'll miss matches against Udinese, Cesena and Juventus.

That could leave him fresh for the Champions League matches against Arsenal, but don't bank on good performances there either. Ibrahimovic has never scored in the knockout rounds of the Champions League when employed by an Italian club.

(Admittedly, he did score twice against Arsenal in the quarterfinals for Barcelona. He also struck against Stuttgart in the Round of 16 earlier that season.)

The knock against the 2008 and 2009 Serie A Footballer of the Year is that he doesn't show up for big games. That's not entirely accurate – he's scored in a Clasico and came off the bench in drenching rain in the last match of the 2008-09 season to score twice against Parma to seal the scudetto ahead of Roma.

But the sentiment sticks. A truly great player, Ibrahimovic's ego and lumbering style perhaps prevent truly great teams from forming around him.

Ibra once claimed that he can do with an orange what John Carew can do with a soccer ball. Given his balletic balance and taekwondo flexibility, not to mention his breathtaking control, that might be accurate. He can do exceptional things. It's just that he doesn't seem to care to do the ordinary bits.

Samuel Eto'o, a striker of roughly similar ability, crisscrossed Ibra's path in a trade between Barcelona and Inter in 2009. The Cameroonian won back-to-back Champions Leagues; Zlatan's season with Barca was the only year in the last three it hasn't won the CL.

Eto'o's play as an auxiliary right back under Mourinho juxtaposes harshly with Ibra's unwillingness to press and general lack of movement.

"When I think how a player should be, names like Kaka, Ibrahimovic and Messi come to mind"

- Jose Mourinho

Over the course of the season, Ibrahimovic's presence works to such a positive that his teams win the league, but his particular skill-set and mentality (Mario Balotelli recently claimed that Ibra is crazier than himself) hinders his sides' equipoise.

It's probably no coincidence that the European knockout rounds begin in February, just as Ibra's form dips.

The Swede tears into new years, scoring once every 1.52 games on average in January (dating back to 2005, his first season in Italy), including five goals in three of the last four Januaries. But the freak statistical anomaly surrounding February demands the rest of his team – often imbalanced to accommodate him – to cover.

Last year, Milan did. Antonio Cassano, acquired in January, pitched in four goals and six assists in the second half of the season to provide a creative injection, and Brazilian strikers Alexandre Pato and Robinho scored three goals each in February. Milan won the scudetto, but couldn't surpass an inexperienced Tottenham in the Champions League Round of 16.

Against the Spurs' London rival Arsenal, Ibracadabra will have to invoke a new sort of magic to break his February hex.

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