Zlatan Ibrahimovic – In Mid-Air
England’s new coach, the Italian Fabio Capelio, once famously used the comparison with the Dutch legend to spur Ibrahimovic to greater heights. When the player transferred from Ajax to Juventus in 2004, Capelio — who had been in charge of Van Basten in the great Milan team of the early 1990s — left Ibrahimovic in a room with a video of Van Basten’s goals. “You’re similar to Van Basten,” he told the striker, “but he scored more goals than you do.”
Ibrahimovic does score goals bur he also does much more. He has often said that he is a ream player who gets as much satisfaction from setting up goals for team-mares as he does from scoring them. It is the kind of platitude forwards often come out with but the statistics back him up. In his final season at Ajax, in 2003-2004, he scored 16 league goals in 22 appearances and contributed 26 assists. The previous season, he scored 13 goals, with 16 assists.
His unselfishness could be seen in one of Inter’s key league games this season, away to high-flying Fiorentina in November. In a hard-fought 2-0 victory, Ibrahimovic produced a slide-rule pass to set up Luis Antonio Jimenez for the first goal and a devastating first-time flick — while looking in the other direction, a la Ronaldlnho – to give Julio Cruz an unmissable opportunity for the second.
As Eriksson noted, Ibrahimovic combines immense physical strength with delicate bail skills. He can do a step-over dribble at speed to compare with that of Manchester Uniteds Ctistiano Ronaldo. He can pull a fast-moving ball down on his toe with the precision of someone taking an onion from a jar with a cocktail stick. He can shoot powerfully and accurately with minimum backlift.
In his ability to contort his upper body while in mid-air, to get a touch on a ball arriving at a difficult height, he is probably unique. It has helped him to produce many important assists and some unforgettable goals, such as his back-heeled lob over goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon for Sweden’s 85th-minure equaliser against Italy at EURO 2004 in Portugal.