The Goal.com 50: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (6)

Goal.com’s countdown to the greatest player of 2008 continues with Inter’s Swedish superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The lanky striker was at the heart of the Nerazzurri’s success throughout the entire year...

50 - Ashley Young - Aston Villa, Premier League - Score: 1109
49 - Javier Zanetti - Internazionale, Serie A - Score: 1104
48 - Daniel Guiza - Fenerbahçe, Super Lig - Score: 1089
47 - Juninho Pernambucano - Olympique Lyonnais, Ligue 1 - Score: 1083
46 - Juan Román Riquelme - Boca Juniors, Argentine Apertura - Score: 1077
45 - Luca Toni - FC Bayern, Bundesliga - Score: 1064
44 - David Silva - Valencia, Primera Division - Score: 1060
42 (T) - Thierry Henry - Barcelona, Primera Division - Score: 1040
42 (T) - Daniel Alves - Sevilla, Primera Division / Barcelona, Primera Division - Score: 1040

41 - Antonio Cassano - Sampdoria, Serie A - Score: 1028
40 - Klaas-Jan Huntelaar - Ajax Amsterdam, Eredivisie / Real Madrid, Primera Division - Score: 1027
39 - Ricardo Carvalho - Chelsea, Premier Division - Score: 1025
38 - Samuel Eto'o - Barcelona, Primera Division - Score: 1017

37 - Philipp Lahm - FC Bayern, Bundesliga - Score: 1009
36 - Javier Mascherano - Liverpool, Premier League - Score: 1008
35 - Julio Cesar - Internazionale, Serie A - Score 1000
34 - Robinho - Real Madrid, Primera Division / Manchester City, Premier League - Score: 970

33 - Diego - Werder Bremen, Bundesliga - Score: 955
32 - Carles Puyol - FC Barcelona, La Primera División - Score: 915
31 - Wesley Sneijder - Real Madrid, Primera Division - Score: 887

30 - Daniele De Rossi - Roma, Serie A - Score: 878
29 - Esteban Cambiasso - Internazionale, Serie A - Score: 877
28 - Giorgio Chiellini - Juventus, Serie A - Score: 870
27 - Emmanuel Adebayor – Arsenal, Premier League - Score: 862

26 - Nemanja Vidic - Manchester United, Premier League - Score: 829
25 - Ruud Van Nistelrooy - Real Madrid, Primera Division- Score: 827
24 - Sergio Ramos - Real Madrid, Primera Division - Score: 733

23 - Maicon Douglas Sisenando - Internazionale, Serie A - Score: 729
22 - Alessandro Del Piero - Juventus, Serie A - Score: 712
21 - John Terry - Chelsea, Premier League - Score: 705

20 - Frank Lampard - Chelsea, Premier League - Score: 668
19 - Marcos Senna - Villarreal, Primera Division - Score: 636

18 - Rio Ferdinand - Manchester United, Premier League - Score: 610
17 - Gianluigi Buffon - Juventus, Serie A - Score: 589
16 - Kaka - AC Milan, Serie A - Score: 587
15 - Wayne Rooney - Manchester United, Premier League - Score: 586
14 - Karim Benzema - Olympique Lyonnais, Ligue 1 - Score: 559
13 - Andres Iniesta - FC Barcelona, Primera Division - Score: 538
12 - Steven Gerrard - Liverpool, Premier League - Score: 537
11 - Franck Ribery - FC Bayern - Bundesliga - Score: 521
10 - Sergio Agüero – Atlético Madrid, La Liga – Score: 510
9 - Andrei Arshavin - Zenit St Petersburg, Russian Premier League - Score 469
8 - Francesc Fabregas - Arsenal, Premier League - Score: 444
7 - David Villa - Valencia, La Liga - Score: 356

6 – Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Inter, Serie A – Score: 279

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has always been a controversial figure in the football world, but it would be hard to argue that he was not one of the best players of the past year, as his goals and assists propelled Inter to a  successful domestic campaign.

A Poor Start

The latter part of 2007 had seen Inter build up a substantial lead in Serie A, in fact they seemingly had the title wrapped up by Christmas, a significant factor being the ex-Ajax prodigy Zlatan, who seemed to carry the offence for coach Roberto Mancini on his broad shoulders.

However, the first quarter of 2008 was not positive for Ibrahimovic, as Inter were easily knocked out of the Champions League by Liverpool and the 27-year-old also picked up a serious knee injury that ruled him out of a majority of matches until the end of the season.

His performance against Liverpool also contributed to the theory that the Swedish superstar was a big-game flop, unable to perform when it mattered most, such as in Europe’s premier competition.

Swede Redemption

Without Ibrahimovic, Inter somehow contrived to nearly throw away a 10 point lead in Serie A and on the final matchday, Roma were only a single point behind. The club owned by Massimo Moratti had a trip to the Stadio Ennio Tardini to contend with, as the home side Parma were fighting to avoid relegation.

The Nerazzurri could not break down Parma, until their ‘Super Swede’ was introduced. The Swedish sensation was brilliant as a substitute, scoring two excellent and extremely significant goals to give Inter the 2007/08 Scudetto.

The player was then included in Sweden’s Euro 2008 squad, but he was still having plenty of trouble with a chronic knee injury.

The 2008 European Championship

He scored two splendid goals in his first two matches, against Greece and the eventual champions Spain. However, Sweden had to enter a showdown with Russia for the final place in the knock-out round.

Sweden were simply second best against Guus Hiddink’s Russia, who won the match 2-0 and Ibrahimovic, perhaps hampered by injury, had little impact on an important match once again as his national team were eliminated from the Euro 2008 tournament.

A New Season

Eager to make up for his disappointing Euro campaign, Zlatan was keen to begin the season under new Inter boss Jose Mourinho. The ‘Special One’ has got the best out of the former Juventus player so far, as Ibra was once again shoulders the bulk of the Inter’s offence; his side hold a four point lead over second-placed Juventus one matchday into 2009.

Ibrahimovic’s silky skills have paved the way for some dominant offensive performances, as he has already logged in 10 goals and four assists after 17 league matches. One incredible highlight was an astonishing back-heel goal against Bologna, that the Swede later claimed was “easy.”

Indeed, some say that is the Malmo-born striker’s biggest dilemma; he scores spectacular goals, but often squanders the simple chances.

Looking Ahead

Although he had a wonderful year overall, many will look for the frontman to continue to develop in 2009. He is one of the most complete attacking talents on the planet, but his performances occasionally leave something to be desired.

He has been touted as a possible Ballon d’Or winner in the future, but improvement in both his consistency and impact in high-profile matches must be enhanced.

At Inter, the goal is clear; to achieve Champions League glory  - now one of Ibrahimovic’s main personal aims.

Despite a lacklustre Champions League group stage, Inter did eventually qualify for the knock-out round, drawing world champions, Manchester United. Perhaps fittingly, it will be the perfect opportunity for 'Ibracadabra' to attempt to prove his doubters wrong.

Team Prizes:

2007/08 Serie A title

2008 Italian Super Cup

Individual Accolades:

2008 Guldbollen (award given by the Swedish Football Association to the best Swedish male footballer each year)

Adam Scime, Goal.com