Zlatan Ibrahimovic is currently the third-most decorated active footballer in the world. In total, the Swedish goal machine has accumulated 33 trophies during his extraordinary 20 year career, and he isn’t finished yet! For Zlatan, wearing the black and blue colors was a childhood dream come true, himself having supported the club as a youngster. Zlatan would become a central figure on an Inter squad that enjoyed a run of excellence matched in history by only a select few clubs. For a club where premium center-forwards have rarely been in short supply, is Zlatan the best to ever play for Inter at this position? Lets find out!
Zlatan Ibrahimovic joined Inter in August 2006 from rivals Juventus and was immediately ushered into manager Roberto Mancini’s lineup. He needed little time to make his presence felt as he scored in his Inter league debut, a 3-2 victory over Fiorentina. Ibrahimovic joined an already-loaded Inter attacking line featuring Adriano, Hernan Crespo, and Alvaro Recoba.
What Zlatan brought to the group was his unique personality and a skill-set as close to complete as it gets for a center-forward. The player himself has been quoted as saying the following regarding his unique playing style: “Swedish style? No. Yugoslavian style? Of course not. It has to be Zlatan-style.”
To put it into the simplest of terms, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is great in the air, quick, agile, and incredibly strong. He is completely comfortable playing with his back to the goal and has a knack for finishing chances that is second-to-none. These attributes make him extremely versatile, allowing him to play any position on a team’s front line. A wise man will tell you, however, that he is best suited for the role of center-forward due to his eye for goal. He is the textbook definition of the term: clinical striker.
In a way, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a rare type of charismatic enigma. He responds to pundits with answers to questions that can be interpreted as borderline arrogant, and in doing so, carefully inserts the slightest hint of humor which makes them not only less brash, but also uniquely “him.” In this aspect he is truly one-of-a-kind. He knows precisely how to capture an audience.
His debut season with Inter saw Zlatan lead the team in league goals with 15. This, despite the aforementioned array of talent in the Inter attack. The 2006-07 season marked the highest single season point total in Inter history and the second highest in the 117 year history of top flight Italian football. Inter chairman Massimo Moratti had built a calcio juggernaut and Zlatan Ibrahimovic was at the front and center of it.
Ibrahimovic would follow up his stellar inaugural Inter campaign with another fine effort in 2007-08. In 26 appearances he scored 17 goals while assisting another 11. Not only was Zlatan insanely accurate at finding the back of the net with hisfeet, he was equally as skilled at knowing when to drop the ball off to a teammate who may have had the better angle in front of goal.
Is there a more complete Swedish player? Yugoslavian player? Any type of player? If there is, you will be hard-pressed to find one. Zlatan, while being called childish, arrogant, and immature by numerous media outlets including French sports newspaper L’Equipe, kept a relatively low profile during his tenure at Inter. For someone who has been involved in training session fist fights, threatened to break teammate Rafael van der Vaart’s legs, and accused of deliberately stomping on Dejan Lovren’s head, his time at Inter was rather calm by comparison.
Between the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons there was a major change at Inter. Roberto Mancini left the club and Jose Mourinho was hired as the new manager of the Nerazzurri. Inter had won three consecutive Scudetti, the Coppa Italia, and the Supercoppa during Mancini’s tenure. Through all of this recent domestic success there was still one trophy missing from Inter’s case which the club desperately desired: the Champions League.
Jose Mourinho was brought in to guide Inter passed the Serie A ceiling and achieve continental success. Inter had been knocked out of the Champions League in the Round of 16 in the two seasons prior to Mourinho’s arrival. In fact, the club had advanced to the semi-finals of the competition only once (2002-03) since 1981. If Inter were to take the next step in their evolution and join the group consisting of the world’s most elite clubs, they would need to win the Champions League to secure their place.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic delivered a world-class performance from start to finish during the 2008-09 Serie A campaign. He appeared in 35 of Inter’s 38 matches, scoring the most goals in the league (25) and assisting an additional seven. He would become the latest great Inter striker to add his name to the prestigious Cappocannoniere award en route to the club’s fourth consecutive Serie A title.
Unfortunately, the Champions League would again see Inter exit before reaching their desired destination. Though Inter would achieve football immortality the very next season by winning the Champions League, whilst simultaneously becoming the first and only Italian club to win the continental treble, Zlatan sadly, would not be there to join in the festivities.
Zlatan would make the move to Barcelona during the summer before Inter’s treble-winning 2009-10 season. Zlatan was sold to the Catalans for a fee of £59 million and in exchange for striker Samuel Eto’o. This deal was beneficial for Inter, not so however, for Zlatan. He was a poor fit at Barcelona after Lionel Messi decided he wanted to feature in the middle of the pitch, making Ibrahimovic an afterthought. After only one season at Barcelona he was loaned out to AC Milan and later sold outright.
Zlatan’s time at the San Siro is certainly overshadowed by the accomplishments of Diego Milito’s 2009-10 Inter squad in year two under Jose Mourinho. His amazing effort, incredible statistics, and contributions to some of the greatest Inter sides in the club’s long, illustrious history, should not be overlooked nor forgotten.
Though his stay at Inter was brief, the legend known simply as “Zlatan” certainly earned himself that same distinction in the annals of Inter history. Whether he is punching a teammate, stomping on an opposing defenders head, or scoring a goal in the most unbelievable, breathtaking fashion possible, there will never be another player like Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Not in Sweden, not in the former Yugoslavia, not anywhere. There is only one Zlatan.
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