Hi, Mom, Grandma Maggie, Grandma Rosie, Ben and whoever else reads my column! Today, you are in for a treat. I am talking about the one and only Zlatan Ibrahimovic. More specifically, I will discuss why millions of soccer fans, including myself, consider him to be one of the most iconic athletes of all time.
First, Zlatan is a baller. The striker has 472 goals and 184 assists in 765 competitive club matches, posting roughly a 0.62:1 goal to game ratio and 0.86:1 goal contribution (goal contributions include goals and assists) to game ratio. Zlatan has played for some of Europe’s most storied clubs—Malmö FF, Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan twice, Paris Saint-German and Manchester United—and the LA Galaxy. He has won the Eredivisie twice, the KNVB Cup once, the Johan Cruyff Shield once, the Serie A six times, the Supercoppa Italiana three times, La Liga once, the Supercopa de España twice, the UEFA Super Cup once, the FIFA Club World Cup once, Ligue 1 four times, the Trophée des Champions three times, the Coupe de France twice, the Coupe de la Ligue three times, the FA Community Shield once, the English League Cup once and the UEFA Europa League once.
Zlatan won a trophy every season between the 2001-02 and 2016-17 campaigns, including eight straight league titles between the 2003-04 and 2010-11 seasons. He also has received several individual honors, the most impressive being his fourth-place finish in the 2013 Ballon d’Or voting. Despite the fact that Zlatan did not win a trophy with the Swedish national team, he had 61 goals and 17 assists in 109 appearances—impressive stats given that his teammates were underwhelmingly average. All of these numbers, teams and accolades go to show that Zlatan debatably has had the best career of any out-and-out striker—Messi and Ronaldo’s natural positions are on the wing—since the turn of the century.
In addition to being an absolute beast, like a fine wine, Zlatan gets better with age. The average age of retirement for a professional soccer player is 35, and one’s performance—especially a forward’s performance—typically worsens after they turn 30 because their physical attributes, such as speed and strength, decline. As I previously stated, however, Zlatan doesn’t adhere to these trends. The 39-year-old scored two goals within the opening 16 minutes of last Saturday’s Milan derby (in soccer, a derby is a match between local rivals)—his first game after recovering from COVID-19—to secure his historically lackluster AC Milan side a 2-1 victory over European powerhouse and crosstown rival Inter Milan.
Furthermore, Zlatan’s most prolific goal-scoring years came during stints at PSG and the LA Galaxy, when he was 31 to 35 and 37 to 38, respectively. He had 156 goals and 60 assists in 180 competitive PSG appearances—approximately 0.87 goals and 1.2 goal contributions per game—and 53 goals and 15 assists in 58 competitive LA Galaxy appearances—about 0.91 goals and 1.17 goal contributions per game. While the MLS is much less competitive than many European leagues and even though Ligue 1 often is referred to as a “farmers’ league” (people jokingly suggest that the players are semi-pros who farm during the day and play soccer at night because most of them supposedly are considerably worse than the players in the Premier League), Zlatan basically scored or assisted in every game in which he played. That’s an impressive accomplishment for any player, let alone someone who theoretically was way past his prime when he put up the aforementioned numbers. And Zlatan isn’t ready to stop yet. In addition to his fantastic showing over the weekend, Zlatan has three goals in the two other games he played this season. He is scoring roughly 1.67 goals per game in the Serie A and Europa League at 39—show defenses some mercy and go have a mid-life crisis like a normal person, dude.
The final and main reason I put Zlatan up there with the likes of Jackie Robinson, Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, Muhammed Ali and Pele is his confidence. Zlatan is debatably the most self-confident athlete of all time. If you Google “best Zlatan quotes” or read his autobiography “I Am Zlatan: My Story On and Off the Field,” which I highly recommend, the fact that he has a humongous ego becomes apparent. For example, take his social media scuffle with Inter striker Romelu Lukaku. Zlatan referred to himself as “the King of Milan” when he first played for AC Milan between 2010 and 2012, so Lukaku posted an Instagram picture captioned “There’s a new king in town” when Inter defeated Zlatan’s squad in February. After his retaliatory win on Saturday, Zlatan struck back by tweeting, “Milano never had a king, they have a GOD.” What a guy.