By Robin Bairner and John Baines
There are few more colourful characters in the game than Paris Saint-Germain forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic. In fact, possibly the only individual who can match the Swede when it comes to self-confidence and charisma is his former coach at Inter, Jose Mourinho.
On Wednesday evening the pair will come face to face as Mourinho's Chelsea travel to Paris to play PSG in the first-leg of their Champions League quarter-final.
The headlines prior to the match have been dominated by Ibrahimovic and one of football's most discussed topics over the past six or seven years has been just how good the 32-year-old really is.
Domestically, Ibrahimovic has enjoyed unparallelled success during spells at Ajax, Juventus, Inter, Barcelona, Milan and now PSG, but his detractors say that his failure to conquer the Champions League means that he should not be compared to the greats of the game.
Is Ibrahimovic a genius, or is he overrated? Goal's Robin Bairner and John Baines go head to head over the issue.
|"IBRA IS THE MOST MERCURIAL PLAYER ON THE PLANET"
By Robin Bairner
That Zlatan Ibrahimovic should be considered one of the outstanding players of this generation is unquestionable.
The Swede has collected a litany of honours that few players in world football can match, famously winning eight domestic league crowns in succession with four clubs. It is no coincidence that such success has followed the most mercurial and exciting player on the planet.
Nevertheless, the Swede bizarrely still has to answer an ailing band of critics, who would dismiss Ligue 1 as being a level barely worthy of note. Without wishing to extol the virtues of Le Championnat too much, this simply is not the case.
If Radamel Falcao, for instance, thought that France was going to be an easy touch fresh from scoring at close to a goal-a-game for Atletico Madrid he was sorely mistaken as he struggled to register one in two for Monaco before serious injury destroyed his campaign.
Ibra had no such teething problems in France, blasting 30 league goals in his first term to match the strike rate he had achieved the previous season in Serie A with Milan.
And even at 32, the Swede continues to ameliorate his game. His 40 goals this season have been even more impressive than last – and this has been achieved despite being a stronger, more mature, team player. On a developmental level, it is arguably his crowning glory.
This is brought into sharper focus by his impressive contribution with the national team. Sweden’s level on an international basis is moderate, yet Ibra is just a touch under a goal a game when playing for his country.
His form with Sweden obliterates any notion that he is a flat-track bully.
Zlatan has scored 20 times in 19 international appearances since the beginning of 2012. Amongst the sides he has registered against in that period are World Cup qualifiers Croatia, France, Germany, England and Portugal – hardly evidence of someone who thrives against ‘weak’ opponents.
Any way it is looked at, Ibrahimovic’s record is phenomenal – and remarkably it is getting better. To suggest he is overrated is disrespectful. It is naïve. It is simply preposterous.
|"A BULLY WHO FAILS TO DELIVER WHEN IT MATTERS MOST"
By John Baines
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s domestic haul of ten league titles (although the two won with Juventus were later revoked) accrued in the past 12 seasons in four different countries is unparalleled. As a gun for hire, the Swedish striker comes fully loaded with an arsenal of ammunition and unerring accuracy.
Yet despite this serial accumulation of winners medals, there is an obvious void in his C.V as far as the Champions League is concerned - an arena where prominent players are supposed to come to the fore rather than submerge into the shadows.
An overall record of 43 goals in 102 games in Europe’s premier club competition is good but not great, and a tally of just seven strikes in 32 knock-out ties is appalling for a man of his purported brilliance.
But assertions made on purely a statistical basis are often unwise, instead it’s his performances in such games of importance which continue to fuel the notion that he’s nothing more than a bully who fails to deliver when pressure and expectation is at its maximum.
Zlatan sceptics can point to a catalogue of anonymous and anaemic displays as the norm rather than the exception, with definitive moments against the elite few and far between.
If Ibrahimovic really is as good as many suggest, why does he so often come up short when it matters most - when the hallowed few are supposed to make the difference, when the best should elevate and inspire the rest instead of going down solemnly with the ship?
At Inter his hat-trick of Scudetti were attained with Serie A on its knees after Calciopoli but the man who dominated Italian football looked weak, passive, overawed and overhyped on the continent.
His sole indifferent season at Barcelona again left many unanswered questions about his credentials and once back in Italy with Milan, an outstanding debut campaign and another league title was tarnished by vacant offerings in Europe.
Currently in a Paris Saint-Germain side empowered with riches and resources well beyond the rest of its competitors, his prolific output creates constant acclaim, but until he’s addressed those no-shows against Valencia, Liverpool, Manchester United, Inter and Tottenham, Ibrahimovic cannot be classed as one of the great players of his generation.
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