19 August 2001 – This was the day when the whole of Europe first caught a glimpse of a young footballer named Zlatan Ibrahimović, playing for Dutch giants AFC Ajax. And since that moment, there has been absolutely no looking back for the giant Swede, as step by step he has scaled the mountain of greatness in the world of football.
Born in the town of Malmo, Sweden, in October 1981, Ibrahimović started off playing the game at the age of six, with hometown club Malmo FF and idolized Brazilian legend Ronaldo growing up. There was a time in his early years, when he considering quitting the game, but was convinced not to by his coach at Malmo, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Premier League side Arsenal offered Zlatan a chance for a trial, but the striker famously rejected it. In the future, he went on to this about the incident: "Arsene Wenger asked me to have a trial with Arsenal when I was 17. I turned it down. Zlatan doesn't do auditions."
That is Zlatan in a nutshell for you. Brash, bold, arrogant and with an in-your-face attitude. Of course, he had the talents on the pitch to match his attitude and it was not long before his career started going places.
Having made his first-team bow for Malmo in 1999, the lanky striker was signed up by Ajax two years later, where he went on to win two Eredivisie titles, before joining Juventus in 2004. His time there happened to coincide with the Calciopoli scandal that saw Juve get stripped of their previous two Serie A titles and get demoted to the second tier.
In the aftermath of this, Zlatan moved to Inter Milan in 2006, where he continued to cement his legacy as one of the best strikers in the game. Three years with the Nerazzurri, three Scudettos along with numerous personal honours, and Ibrahimović was Europe’s most coveted footballer.
Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, who were the most dominant force in the continent at the time, signed Zlatan for a whopping £59 million fee, plus Samuel Eto’o moving the other way. However, things hardly went as per plans for the Catalans as the player and the manager had a huge falling out, resulting in Ibrahimović returning to Italy, with AC Milan only a year later, having won the La Liga with Barca.
Zlatan led Milan to the Scudetto in his first season with the team and enjoyed a successful second season on a personal level, before big money spenders Paris Saint-Germain snapped him up in 2012.
“We haven't had a goalscorer like him in France for a long time. He is on a different planet to anyone else,” said legendary striker Jean-Pierre Papin on Ibrahimović, as the Swede went about conquering every record with Les Parisiens, writing himself in the annals of their history.
In his four years in France, Zlatan won 12 major honours, became the club top-scorer for PSG (a record which was recently broken by Edinson Cavani) and established himself as a legend of the game. Zlatan started a new chapter in his career with English giants Manchester United in 2016 and immediately fired the club to a League Cup and UEFA Europa League success.
It would take pages altogether to list out the trophies and the individual honours the Swedish giant has accumulated in his long and illustrious career. However, a UEFA Champions League title is something that has been continued to elude Zlatan. But, in every right, he is one of the best forwards to have graced the game.
“He came, he saw, he conquered,” legendary words used to describe Julius Caesar. And it would not be wrong to say that, those words also tell you what Zlatan is really all about.