Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Under or Overrated?

Published on 11 June 2023 at 13:00

A man who’s penchant for the spectacular often defied belief and physics, this is the story of Scandinavia's greatest footballing export: Zlatan Ibrahimovic.


Born in Malmo, Sweden to a Bosnian father and Croatian mother on October 3rd 1981, Zlatan Ibrahimovic would go on from these humble beginnings to become a world wide superstar and the top scorer for his nation with 62 strikes for the Blågult across a career that spanned 7 countries and 24 years.


However, despite that remarkable scoring record, there is much discussion as to whether Zlatan is as good as he himself claims to be. So today, following the Swede's recent retirement, we will be taking a look through the career of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to determine if he is really under or overrated.


Zlatan Ibrahimovic was a goalscoring phenomenon throughout his career, averaging a goal every 128 minutes across the 827 matches he played at club level. To put it into context, if he was to average that record across a 38 game Premier League season he would end up on 26 goals every single season (a figure which doesn't look as impressive since Erling Haaland's freak 36 goal haul this year but would actually win Zlatan the golden boot in the previous four seasons).


On top of this, the Swede is the 11th highest goalscorer in UEFA Champions League history (UEFA) with 49 goals in the competition and has scored in all but two club competition he has played in (the Supercopa De España and the Johan Cruijff Schaal, both single match affairs). Clearly, 'Ibra' was a prolific goalscorer unbound by competition or country and one who conquered every league he played in.


Well, almost every. As his doubters like to point out, Zlatan had one ill-fated spell under Pep Guardiola at Barcelona in which he was shipped back off to Italy after one season having failed to impress the Spanish boss. At least that is the common narrative, and while it is indeed true that there was a significant character clash between him and the Catalan coach, Zlatan did actually notch 16 goals in just 2000 minutes, averaging out at one every 125 minutes, once again a truly impressive rate and one which disproves the narrative that Ibrahimovic was a 'flop' for the Spanish giants.

Following this supposed disappointment, Zlatan had an impressive two year stint with AC Milan (the club he would later finish his career with) before an astronomically good spell with French giants PSG, becoming the clubs leading goalscorer with 156 goals in 180 games. Whilst that figure has since been surpassed by Edinson Cavani and more recently Kylian Mbappé, to achieve that feat in just four seasons truly shows Zlatan's lethal eye for goal. In fact it was at PSG where Zlatan would score the majority of his 496 career goals (according to transfermarkt). Of course, many claim that Zlatan's goalscoring numbers have been 'juiced' by his time spent in arguably weaker divisions such as Ligue 1 or MLS, an argument which is hard to discount considering he averaged 0.93 goals per game across those stints.


Finally, arguably the most popular reason for discrediting Zlatan Ibrahimovic is his attitude. 'Ibra' has always rubbed people up the wrong way and he has always come across as arrogant in interviews. He is the very definition of a 'marmite' character with opinion very much split on whether his ego is a positive or negative influence on his reputation. This has certainly brought the debate surrounding the Swede's career into the picture more as, to put it simply, some people just do not like him and find it hard to separate their personal feelings from the pure numbers.


However, it is these exact numbers which rank Zlatan Ibrahimovic as one of the greatest goalscorer of the 21st century, a record-breaking striker who's knack for finding the back of the net was just as effective as his ability to create a stir in the press. Whilst it is certain that 'Ibra' splits opinion, I believe it is impossible to ignore his sheer brilliance whenever he laces up his boots. It is this brilliance which is often overlooked and thus, in my books, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is underrated.


Thanks for reading and let us know in the comments if you think Zlatan Ibrahimovic is under or overrated.


Ben Watts

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