Chelsea: Why PSG's Zlatan Ibrahimovic Is The Best I've Ever Played Against
If there’s one thing that's riled me more than most “opinions” in football over the last 10 years it’s people telling me Zlatan Ibrahimovic is crap. Well, I say “people” but of course I mean “idiots”, saying the former Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan and current Paris St Germain striker is crap. If the people spouting these opinions had even a grain of football knowledge they would know that a player who has scored 55 goals in 64 appearances for PSG, as well as five other top European clubsover the years, winning ten league titles along the way, cannot be a bad player. And you don’t get lucky that many times so even a layman looking at bare statistics alone would deduce Ibra is a bit of alright.
I can testify first hand to his brilliance after playing against him a few years back whilst he was still just an arrogant wonderkid at Ajax. I was playing at Aberdeen at the time and we were taking part in a winter tournament out in the Algarve which included us, Zlatan’s Ajax and Wolfsburg, who at the time were being ably marshaled by the only man ever top Ibra in the arrogance stakes, Stefan Effenberg.
Now, I loved Effenberg then as much as I love Ibra now. He was just like a cartoon villain, only one who was a world class footballer and Effenberg didn’t disappoint me the first time I clapped eyes on him. Our first game of the tournament was versus Wolfsburg who were managed by the unforgettably named Wolfgang Wolf and both teams lined up for kick-off. As the referee went through the motions of counting heads so he could start the game he noticed Wolfburg were a man short. A good five minutes passed and from the dressing room area emerged Effenberg, chest puffed out like a German Foghorn Leghorn, casually making his way across the running track that surrounded the pitch as if it was a Sunday morning stroll with his dog. He positioned himself on the edge of his own penalty area, pulled his socks up and shouted something in German, which I can only assume was “ Right, I’m here now. You can start.” You couldn’t help but admire his self-absorbed arrogance. He knew he was the man and was just making sure the referee knew it too.
So on we went to the next match against Ajax, a game in which we were expecting to be a bit of a run around if I’m honest. I’ve probably played around twenty games against Dutch sides and whilst my teams have generally done well against them, you always know you’re going to spend a fair bit of time without the ball - and this was no different.
Ajax’s young team perhaps wasn’t of the same quality as the Champions League winning side of 1995, but given time it might just have been. Even then we knew many of their players: Christian Chivu, Rafael Van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder, Andy Van der Meyde, Mido, Steven Pienaar, John Heitinga, Maxwell, Nigel De Jong, Maarten Stekelenburg and Ibrahimovic, with the added experience of Jari Litmanen and Richard Witschge thrown in for good measure. It’s safe to say they made a few quid from the sale of that lot.
Fifteen minutes into the game and a ball was slid between our two centre halves for Ibrahimovic to come through one-on-one with me - and he calmly chipped the ball past me as I came out. 1-0 Ajax.
After another ten minutes it got worse still. The ball was played into Zlatan’s feet inside the box and with a defender up his arse, he leaned into his opponent using tall frame to roll him and duly dispatched a right-footed shot past me into the bottom corner. Two nil down after just ten minutes.
Needless to say, you didn’t have to be Sherlock to see that we were running the risk of having our pants pulled down and our arses spanked in public. Ibrahimovic was running the show, and whether he was dropping deep and turning to run at us or holding up every ball that was played into him with a touch like velcro and bringing on rushing midfielders into play, we just couldn’t deal with him.
Our captain, Russell Anderson, recognised this and decided to be somewhat proactive.
By this, I mean boot Ibra up in the air. Granted, it took him until the twentieth minute to get near him, but when he did, it had the desired effect. He stood off Ibra as he again dropped to receive the ball to feet so as to give him enough room to comfortably turn and then BANG! he struck, taking the ball and sending Ibra a good four foot in the air. Russell took the the yellow card, which, to be fair, was in the post right from the moment he decided to make the tackle. Job done, punishment taken.
At six foot five inches, Ibrahimovic can certainly handle himself, and although he was rattled rather than wrecked, he’d had enough. He wasn’t going to be kicked around by “inferior players” so he simply pulled his socks up, dusted himself down and walked off the pitch. But he wasn’t done there.
As he slowly trudged off the field, every time he passed one of our players he pointed his finger at each us saying “You! You’re sh**. And you! You’re sh** too!” just to remind us we should be privileged just to be on the same pitch as him. To be fair, we just laughed at him, half out of amusement and half from shear relief that he was going off. Compared to him we probably were rubbish - but the fact we got back in the game, narrowly losing 2-1, showed that he was the real difference between the two sides despite their obvious wealth of talent.
I'm just glad he went off after twenty minutes. I'd hate to have someone score eight goals past me in a single game, no matter who it is.