6 March ~ The ideological chasm separating England from Europe has narrowed over the last 20 years. Most English sides have moved beyond Charles Reep's flawed long-ball game and are more open to new approaches. Yet, a glaring blind spot remains: Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The parochialism of English football manifests itself most strikingly when Ibrahimovic's name crops up. His supposed failure to succeed in the Champions League against English teams, apparently the sole barometer for a non-Premier League player's worth, is cited as evidence of his mediocrity. His success in Serie A is underappreciated and he is pilloried for underperforming at major international tournaments.

As his new autobiography makes plain, Ibrahimovic does not care what other people say. He possesses an almost inhuman level of arrogance. In December he said: "I don't need a Golden Ball to demonstrate that I am number one." When asked to alter his game at Barcelona to accommodate Lionel Messi, Ibrahimovic remarked: "It's like they bought a Ferrari and drive it like a Fiat."

The striker's vast skillset – a potent mix of audacious flicks and outstanding power – makes up for his conceit. The most precise and intricate aspects of football are his playthings. The Swedish writer Bjorn Ranelid likened his movements to "jazz improvisations on the pitch".

Ibrahimovic, a brash showman and flamboyant entertainer, supposedly embodies the antitheses of old-fashioned English values. But his style is more English than many realise. At 6ft 5in and with such aerial prowess, Ibrahimovic could easily have led the line for a First Division side in the 1980s. Milan were criticised for playing too many long balls to him last season. His broad and muscular build, if not his technique, is stereotypical of an English target-man.

Ibrahimovic's adversaries in the press, the old-fashioned journalists bothered by imaginary yellow cards and players wearing gloves, tend to depict him as a superficial showman, a player too flashy and petulant to succeed against tough Premier League opposition. The conceited Ibrahimovic is a victim of England's enduring arrogance.

Commentators in England too often ignore success achieved outside the Premier League, which is a shame, as Ibrahimovic's statistics are staggering. He has played in title-winning teams for the past eight seasons (although two of these, with Juventus, were revoked). He has been voted Serie A's player of the year in three of the last four seasons – he missed out in 2010 as he was at Barcelona, who made him the second most expensive player in history when they bought him from Inter for £38.5 million. He is the captain of Sweden and has already scored 23 goals in 29 appearances this season.

Given how far English football has come in the last 20 years, it is disappointing that Ibrahimovic attracts so much derision. Journalists on the Sunday Supplement claimed recently that "nobody watches Serie A", the competition that has largely defined Ibrahimovic's career. In the Telegraph, the striker was described as "overrated and overpaid". At the 2006 World Cup, Martin O'Neill, one of British football's more astute personalities, declared him "the most overrated player on the planet".

That Premier League loyalists refuse to acknowledge his talents says more about them than it does about him. In a year in which Premier League clubs have struggled against Italian opposition, criticism of Ibrahimovic is particularly embarrassing. He was Milan's best player in their 4-0 demolition of Arsenal in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 match last month. He dismantled the Arsenal defence repeatedly, before finishing off the tie with the fourth goal

Ibrahimovic rated his performance as his best for the club. As Arsenal welcome Milan to the Emirates for the return fixture tonight, Ibrahimovic will have the opportunity to silence a few more doubters. David Yaffe-Bellany

Comments (22)
Comment by Ash_Clark 2012-03-06 10:31:03

Really good piece.

Comment by lennon 2012-03-06 11:13:19

I've seen Ibrahimovic play dozens of times on telly, whether it be for club(s) or country, but I always seem to have the misfortune of witnessing him have a mediocre game. It's my loss, obviously, cos he sounds ace. Maybe tonight will be my night.

Comment by ooh aah 2012-03-06 11:33:38

Hmm. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is now in his 30's and has played for some of the most successful clubs in European football over the last 7 or 8 years. Milan, Inter, Barca, have all won the CL in that time. Yet has a single one of those clubs made it into a CL semi final whilst Zlatan was in the team? I don't recall it.

Zlatan at Inter - knocked out in QF, Barcelona win CL. Zlatan at Barca, Barca knocked out by Inter, Inter win CL. Zlatan leaves Barca, Barca win CL. This isn't the exception to the Zlatan rule, it is the Zlatan rule.

Maybe, just maybe, this year a top European Club with Zlatan in the team might actually make it past the QF of the Champions League. Maybe then people might stop suggesting he's a waste of space.

The English press are not averse to star fucking foreigners - far from it, as any glance at a newspaper or tv report over the last decade or so would establish - the current Barca team, Lionel Messi, Spain, every Brazil side ever, Real Madrid during the Galacticos era, Ronaldinho etc, etc. So I don't put it down to parochialism. Maybe they don't salivate over Zlatan because they just don't think Ibrahimovic is that good.

Comment by Coral 2012-03-06 11:40:09

Smack on ooh ahh. In addition I would say "the press" don't like players who are arrogant. Contrast the love for Messi and his dazzling skills v Ronaldo of Real Madrid. Both are comparable but one gets a whole lot more love than the other. English never warm to arrogance and a player should be humble and meek and not rub it in our faces that they are much better than us.

Comment by Analogue Bubblebath II 2012-03-06 12:10:02

Ooh Aah -- Barca reached the CL semi when Ibrahimovic was there, no thanks to him. He was then appallingly bad in both legs as Internazionale squeezed through.

He's quite talented and he has shown that he is ruthless against poor or average teams. But the record shows that he almost never does his stuff against strong opposition when the chips are down.

Twenty-eight Champions League goals in 11 seasons sounds respectable until you consider that only four of those goals were in the knockout stages, and three of those four were against a defensively weak Arsenal (Alex Song was at centre-half for two of them). For a guy who is one of the very highest wage-earners in world football that's a very poor return. And this has happened over the course of a decade, it's a serial pattern rather than a passing blip.

"He was Milan's best player in their 4-0 demolition of Arsenal in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 match last month. He dismantled the Arsenal defence repeatedly, before finishing off the tie with the fourth goal"

Ashley Young demolished Arsenal as well this season. Is he one of the world's greatest players too?

Comment by Analogue Bubblebath II 2012-03-06 12:16:55

I also notice that while the author refers to Ibrahimovic being the captain of Sweden, there is seemingly no space to mention that at one stage he went for three full years without scoring an international goal.

Comment by Pietro Paolo Virdis 2012-03-06 12:17:35

It's interesting that English press don't like Zlatan because they find him arrogant, when that is what I find the English press (sports and football section) to be.
Maybe they can't take the competition in that particular department.

Of all Zlatan's treats, one I find is far beyond likeable, is that he does not give a flying fu** what the press says, and treats journalists as leeches when they deserve to be treated as such.

Comment by Guernican 2012-03-06 13:22:49

"Yet, a glaring blindness remains: Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic."

Yes, that's the one glaring blindness.


Anyway, skipping over the article's glaring shortcomings, he's a brilliant player. If anyone ever mentions the phrase "good touch for a big man" in connection with an also-ran like Peter Crouch, write Ibrahimovich's name on a wooden plank and anil it to their forehead.

Sadly, class and style on the pitch is no guarantee of the same off it, as a long succession of arrogant, self-entitled pricks have demonstrated since time immemorial. He's at the front of a queue that features plenty of tools: Eto'o springs to mind, as does the grandaddy of them all: Maradona.

Comment by DavidYB 2012-03-06 13:41:16

Yes, blindness is certainly not the right word. Blind spot would have been better. Apologies all round.


Comment by Coral 2012-03-06 13:50:42

"Of all Zlatan's treats, one I find is far beyond likeable, is that he does not give a flying fu** what the press says, and treats journalists as leeches when they deserve to be treated as such."

Should look to kick them in the face like he does those young upstarts in his team.

Comment by jonmid 2012-03-06 14:22:06

Having read some extracts from his autobiography on the message board he comes across as an arrogant prick no better than the likes of Tevez, cole and co

Comment by geobra 2012-03-06 14:57:16

A few facts about Ibrahimovic. Son of a Bosnian father and a Croatian mother, he grew up in a tough immigrant neighbourhood in Malmo. This may in part explain both his arrogance and his occasional lapses into thuggery, as in the recent league game v Napoli.

He's a moody player, which means that depending on his mood he can be devastating or ineffectual.

His failure to deliver the goods in the matches that really count seems to me undeniable. Compare him with Messi, who may not have done it yet with Argentina, but has rarely disappointed in the big club matches.

I'd say that Ibrahimovic is the footballing equivalent of those flat track county bullies who failed at test level Graham Hick and Mark Ramprakash.

Comment by HORN 2012-03-06 16:59:26

The times I've seen him he never punches his weight, which ABII said.

He's not very good-looking either, is he? He reminds me of a sleazy sort of guy who might have shagged Leonard Cohen's girlfriend on the quiet.

Comment by Jimbags 2012-03-06 22:18:20

It's hardly new or strange for players greatness to be judged against Europe's elite sides rather than middling teams in the 4th best league in Europe.

How highly did the Italian media rate Cantona?

Comment by ooh aah 2012-03-07 06:50:20

"Ooh Aah -- Barca reached the CL semi when Ibrahimovic was there, no thanks to him. He was then appallingly bad in both legs as Internazionale squeezed through."

Ah right, my mistake, for some reason I thought that was in the QF. Maybe because he looked so out of his depth.

And never mind Ashley Young, when it comes to rating players based on performances against Arsenal this season, they're all behind Yakubu

Comment by Coral 2012-03-07 10:08:37

Zlatan had a cracker of a game last night that will get all the English media fools on his side and realise he is world class.

Comment by Jobi1 2012-03-07 11:39:52

Have to say the monumental frustration of watching him over 90 minutes is one of the reasons I haven't been able to find the motivation to go to San Siro this season. Geoff's comparison to the likes of the undoubtedly talented but mentally flawed Hick and Ramprakash is absolutely perfect.

It's a constant Ibra debate around here - are the usual 88 minutes of infuriatingly lazy, petulant nothingness worth the those fleeting moments (which admittedly do come round at least once a game) where he performs some extraordinary physical contortion to create or score a goal? Statistically speaking, most of the time, I suppose you would have to say yes. However the other statistic is the seemingly increasing number of yellow and red cards he picks up, almost exclusively for acts of violence or dissent, often leading to bans from important games (when Milan usually seem to do perfectly well without him).

Comment by trickydicky 2012-03-07 14:23:21

Ibrahimovic's problem (or ours) is his style of play and the style of play of teams he plays for. He plays slow tempo football, often for slow tempo sides. This is exaggerated at Milan who are particularly slow tempo. As such, when English teams buzz around him at a high tempo (which they have done very successfully lets not forget in the last few years in Europe) he has looked like a big, cumbersome lummox. He also was not helped by turning up at Barcelona and slowing them down and looking like he was in the way. That’s not to say that in the super slow mo Serie A he is not a great player with great touch and an eye for goal. Just English teams are well suited to deal with him, as we also tend to have large, aerially dominant centre backs. He, also, has played spectacularly badly at times against English teams. His miss from about half a yard vs Liverpool in Turin when all Juve had to do was win 1-0 to go through was as bad as any I have seen. Also, when Barca played Arsenal away a couple of years back they utterly mullered them in the first 15 or 20 minutes and created a whole host of chances, which big Zlats contrived to miss in all sorts of ways.

I don't think it makes English people/press particularly narrow minded if a particular player is well suited to be nullified by our clubs style of play, and has also had a couple of unfortunate mare's against our clubs.

Comment by geobra 2012-03-07 19:07:06

I watch Serie A football every other week, more or less, and all I can say is that it's not as slow as the previous post suggests. In fact one of the main criticisms of it here is that skill has been sacrificed for speed and athleticism. A number of extremely talented players have sunk almost without trace as a result. A good example would be Domenico Morfeo,one of the most technically gifted players I have ever see. If English football is so much faster in comparison, it must be played at something approaching the speed of light.

Comment by geobra 2012-03-07 19:08:19

' I have ever seen.....'

Comment by hifirandy 2012-03-07 20:25:43

I was discussing this exact topic with an Irish friend (I'm an American. In America. Go figure.) and he was saying that he doesn't track back on defense enough to be beloved in England. Made a bit of sense to me.

I personally love watching Ibra play, if only because I find the game most entertaining when it involves a tall guy who can do things with the ball. Curiosities like Hangeland and Zamora -- and Geoff Cameron in MLS -- come to mind. Heck, I even like a good helping of John O'Shea every now and again, which proves I've got it bad.

Comment by Pietro Paolo Virdis 2012-03-08 01:39:10

He's third in this list

which apparently is put together from 200 different values

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