Ibrahimovic joins PSG to achieve European dream
Since bursting onto the Swedish soccer scene as an outrageously skillful teenager, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has divided opinion and his move to Paris Saint-Germain from AC Milan will not change that.
Some will see the transfer as Sweden’s most talented player trading sporting ambition for money as he takes an unexpected step down after a career with some of Europe’s biggest clubs.
His supporters back home will say the opposite and claim big-spending PSG offer the tall striker his best chance of winning the Champions League before he retires.
For a player who has made no secret of his desire to win European club soccer’s elite title, PSG would seem an unusual choice but having attracted combined transfer fees running into hundreds of millions of euros, it can hardly be for money alone that last season’s Serie A top scorer has moved to France.
When he left Malmo FF as a callow youth in 2001, Ibrahimovic began a professional career in which he dominated defences and made headlines in almost equal measure.
Before leaving Sweden, the forward specialised in tormenting defenders in the first and second divisions — Allsvenskan and Superettan, gaining a reputation for being ‘un-Swedish’.
His detractors said Ibrahimovic was arrogant and selfish, taking the Swedish game away from its roots which are based in collective effort and organisation.
His legions of admirers, however, saw him as a youthful genius, comparable to the talented players seen in South America with his dribbles, flicks and solo raids.
A move to Ajax Amsterdam was the start of a string of successful seasons, spectacular goals and a remarkable run of league titles as he established himself at the top of the game.
Although Juventus were subsequently stripped of two league crowns following the Calciopoli scandal, Ibrahimovic won titles every season for eight years at five clubs in three countries.
That winning streak came to an end when AC Milan’s challenge faded in the final weeks of last season, allowing Andrea Pirlo-inspired Juve to snatch the title from their grasp.
Despite such a dominant presence in domestic soccer, Ibrahimovic has never won the Champions League.
A virtuoso performance in Milan’s last 16 match against Arsenal suggested he might be about to change that last season, but they then lost to Barcelona in the quarter-finals.
With his 31st birthday coming up in October, time is running out if Ibrahimovic is to win the major European trophy his cabinet is lacking.
With free-spending Qatari owners and experienced Italian Carlo Ancelotti as coach, PSG are an interesting project but whether a club with a distinct lack of success in Europe’s top competitions can win the Champions League remains to be seen.
Roman Abramovich’s millions quickly brought domestic success for Chelsea but it took nine years before the Russian owner saw his club lift the Champions League trophy.
Manchester City may have won the Premier League for their generous Arab owners last term but they failed to get out of their group on their Champions League debut.
PSG have one European trophy to their name, having lifted the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1996, and the lack of quality opposition in France’s top league certainly does not offer the best preparation for playing in Europe’s elite club competition.
Having seen his former teams Inter Milan and Barca win the Champions League the season after he was sold, Ibrahimovic will hope Ancelotti, himself a former AC Milan player, can help him fill the glaring gap in his personal trophy haul at last.