Goal.com 50: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (5)

Goal.com's countdown of the 50 best players of 2008-09 continues. Beginning the top 5 is the spectacular Swede who has just secured a move to Barcelona...

There are few players, if any, whose impact for their team rivals that of Zlatan Ibrahimovic for Inter last season.

The Swede was seemingly their only consistent source of attacking ideas, but a formidable one at that, and it could be seen from the very beginning of the season. By October, he was in full swing, scoring a fantastic back-heel effort against Bologna - a strong contender the ‘Goal of the Season’ - and also brushing aside rivals Roma with a superb brace en route to a 4-0 win at the Stadio Olimpico.

When the Swede was short of ideas, Inter looked impotent. Luckily, on the domestic stage, that was rarely the case.

All-star performances against Palermo, Chievo, Lazio, Genoa, Fiorentina and Juventus from November and beyond were nothing short of dominating, as defences had no answer to him. Whether it be his physicality, long range strikes or creativity, many sides struggled to contain one of the most complete forwards in football today as he led Inter to their fourth consecutive Serie A crown.

His exploits in Serie A earned him a personal title as well - 25 goals saw him take home the coveted Capocannoniere for the first time in his career. Unsurprisingly, he clinched it with another vintage display – scoring a brace in a 4-3 win over Atalanta on the final day of the season.

However, as Ibra’s trend of domestic domination this season continues, so does his tendency to fall short on the continental stage. The Nerazzurri were simply no match for Manchester United in the Champions League round of 16, and Ibrahimovic admitted as much.

“It’s disappointing because we allowed them to score early in both halves,” he told Rai after Inter's 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford.

“Despite their goals, we continued to play well. We hit the post twice, and I went close to scoring on two other occasions. We played with real confidence and character, but it was not enough.”

The 27-year-old has been apt at disappearing on the continental stage, but Inter’s failure could hardly be pinned only on his shoulders this time. Nonetheless, his lack of productivity was evident in the Champions League, with just one goal in 2008-09.

On the international stage, Sweden and Ibrahimovic risk missing out on the World Cup as they sit with nine points from six matches in Group 1. The forward will have to take his team by the scruff of the neck if he wants to be in South Africa next June.

Ibracadabra! | 'Ibra' always has a trick up his sleeve

A tribute to his incredible technical ability lies in the fact that treble winners Barcelona were willing to exchange top scorer Samuel Eto’o plus €45 million for his services. An ambitious player like Ibra, who has won a great deal in just three years at Inter, jumped eagerly at the challenge.

One wonders whether the ex-Juventus man can continue the constant improvement he has shown over the past few seasons. Ibra does not have to prove he is a great forward - that is already evident. The player wants to prove he is the best by winning the Ballon d’Or, but to do that he will have to do the one thing he has not been able to achieve at club level – win the Champions League – no longer with Inter, but with Barcelona.

2008-09 HONOURS

Serie A, 2009
Supercoppa Italiana 2008
Capocannoniere, 2008-09

Adam Scime, Goal.com

5. ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC (Inter, Barcelona & Sweden)