Nicholas Anelka, Robbie Keane and Christian Vieri - the most common thing among these legends is that they have all played in more than 10 clubs. With Swedish legend Zlatan Ibrahimović returning to AC Milan, which is technically his eleventh official career move, he stands to qualify for being one of the most successful journeymen, having won 31 trophies in over two decades.
The many different clubs on Zlatan’s resume include Malmo, Ajax, Juventus, Inter, Barcelona, AC Milan, PSG, Manchester United and LA Galaxy. He has scored 372 goals in 521 league games for all his clubs, and is currently the third most decorated active footballer, behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. But what makes this star not stick to one city?
With many successful players, the most common ground is stability. However, the case of Zlatan lies in a bed of different controversies. Early in his career, he was shipped out to Juventus from Ajax after injuring his teammate, Rafael van der Vaart during an international match. The Dutch later accused Ibrahimović of hurting him intentionally.
While at Barcelona, a training room bust-up with Pep Guardiola led to a loan move to AC Milan, where he was involved in a training-ground fistfight with Milan teammate Oguchi Onyewu, after the Swede made a two-footed tackle on him.
In November 2012 with PSG, he received a two-match ban for kicking Saint-Étienne goalkeeper Stéphane Ruffier in the chest. In the same year, he was accused by then Lyon defender Dejan Lovren and President Jean-Michel Aulas of deliberately stamping on Lovren's head. Lovren suggested the reason Zlatan escaped punishment was due to his “superstar status”.
In February 2013, UEFA handed Ibrahimović a two-match ban for stamping on Valencia winger Andrés Guardado. These are just a few of the many controversies the veteran star has been embroiled in.
The backing of Mino Raiola, Manchester United’s biggest bully, has contributed to the legendary status of Ibrahimović. Raiola has been mentioned in ‘I Am Zlatan’, Ibrahimović’s autobiography where he talks about the Dutchman’s influence on his career.
In their first meeting, he asked Ibrahimović his standard question for footballers: “Do you want to be the best in the world? Or the player who earns most and can show off the most stuff?” Ibrahimović replied with the obvious and recounted phoning Raiola afterwards to ask him to be his agent. The agent’s first words were, “Sell your cars, your watches, and start training three times as hard. Because your stats are rubbish.” Over the next two decades, the super-agent secured deals for the Swede among the best clubs across Europe and America.
Ibrahimović has won trophies in Netherlands, Italy, France, Spain and England, with the only trophy left to win being the UEFA Champions League. He has played with all three of Italy’s biggest clubs while he won most of his laurels playing for PSG. The only country which did not seem to yield much fruit for the striker was the USA, but what he lost in club honours, he made up for in individual plaudits, winning the MLS Newcomer of the Year and MLS Goal of the Year Awards.
Ibrahimović is also one of the most decorated sportspeople from his country after Tennis star Bjorn Borg. Sweden’s former captain has scored 62 goals in 116 appearances, having played for the national team in 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cups and four consecutive UEFA Euros, from 2004 to 2016.
However, the most remembered moment in his international career is undoubtedly a friendly against England, wherein he singlehandedly demolished the Three Lions with three stunning goals, each one more magnificent than the last. After a beautiful volley inside the box equalised the score, the maestro rifled a free-kick past Joe Hart from miles away to put Sweden ahead. In stoppage time, Zlatan backtracked to reach an awkward header from Hart outside his own penalty area and struck a leaping overhead kick for the ages.
Many have called that moment the goal of the century, but it just sums up the talent of the Swede who is now at the twilight of his career at 38. Having played in four consecutive decades, Zlatan is one of the most proactive footballers to have walked this earth, and is considered by many, to be unlucky to have not won the Ballon D'or or the Champions League. However, the lack of these merits do not discount his achievements as the Swede goes marching into the new decade with yet another challenge: Bring back the glory days to the Rossoneri.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Franck Fife