Immense Ibra: The Story Behind Zlatan’s Ballon d’Or Nomination

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

It is no mean feat to be spoken of in the same hushed tones as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but, in 2013, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has managed just that. Having spent a good decade of his top-level career being largely dismissed – at least by the British punditocracy – as a flat-track bully, a player who failed to deliver when it mattered, the Swede has finally dispelled this myth and announced himself as a true godsend of a footballer.

If such a description seems a tad over the top, simply watch his volley against England, his volley against Bastia, or his volley against Anderlecht (anyone notice a common denominator?) and try and argue that Ibrahimovic is not, simply, a joy-bringing gift of a sportsman. In a way, 2013 has been nothing particularly special for Ibrahimovic himself – he has simply gone about doing what he has always done – but rather it’s the reaction to him which has finally changed, and finally entered its rightful state of awe-struck appreciation.

Major honours this year

A Ligue 1 title with PSG would be the headline act here, Ibra putting forth his fair share of a contribution with 30 league goals in his 34 appearances. On top of this, he garnered the Player of the Year award for both his country of birth, Sweden – his four-goal, Joe Hart-humiliating haul in Sweden’s debut outing at their national stadium doing him no harm – and in his country of residence, France. He also led PSG’s pleasantly surprising Champions League campaign last season, in which they were only knocked out on away goals in the quarter-finals, and of course added yet another reel to his litany of nonsensically good goals.

Who is Zlatan Ibrahimovic?

Arguably the planet’s finest true centre-forward. Serial title-winner. Tai-kwon-do expert. Befuddler of defences across Europe. Practitioner of hitherto unseen but well-founded egotism.

Ibrahimovic grew up having to fend largely for himself in a tough district of Malmo. As a kid, the shield he held up to his many critics was his impenetrable arrogance, to which few could find an answer.

As an adult, the shield he held up to his many critics was his impenetrable arrogance, to which few have yet found an answer.

He has gone on to represent Sweden on 94 occasions, scoring 46 goals. He’s won league titles ten times (including Juventus’s), in four different countries, with six different clubs, at one point collecting eight consecutive titles across the continent. Read that last sentence again: ten titles, four countries, six clubs, eight in a row. This is no ordinary player.

His highlights reel is genuinely second to none. Many of the goals he scores are of a quality unimaginable to almost every other human being. If you see this as an unimportant and superfluous criteria, then ask yourself – do you watch football in order to bring yourself joy, excitement and wonder, or do you do so for another reason?

His arrogance, formerly something of a turn-off for his England-based assessors, has now assumed the status of admirable (and semi-knowing, almost a running joke that Zlatan himself is in on). That his autobiography includes the line ‘Zlatan doesn’t do auditions’ is simply a wonderful fact to be chuckled at alongside a YouTube club of him belting one in off the bar, rather than an argument to be constructed against his worth as an elite-level professional, and this is indeed exactly how it should be. Football, after all, is essentially one big pantomime, and Zlatan is its biggest, best, and most gloriously attention-gathering character.

Key Stats

30 goals in Ligue 1 last term. Eight so far in 12 outings this term, with seven in his four Champions League appearances (!).

60 chances created in his 30 league games last season; 12 this. Ibrahimovic, as well as being a valuable predator, does not wear the number 10 shirt for nothing.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic stats

Zlatan’s Ligue 1 2012/13 stats at PSG

Does he deserve his nomination?

Comprehensively yes. Too long have his detractors cited arbitrary notions of ‘laziness’, ‘arrogance’, ‘selfishness’, while ignoring the medals, goals and pure talent on offer throughout the Swede’s career. As stated above, little has changed this year in terms of Ibrahimovic’s output, which has been as consistently breathtaking as ever, but the perception of him has undoubtedly shifted. In the eyes of football’s opinion-leaders, he has gone from luxury player to match-winner. In reality, of course, he was always the latter, but that matters little now.

Does he have a chance of winning?

Only an outside chance. In reality, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Franck Ribery will draw shorter odds due to the muscle and dominance of their employers. Zlatan, though, could hardly have done much more to earn the title, and, although he is unlikely to, could hardly be argued against if he did.

In a way, winning the Ballon d’Or, a trophy dispensed by the sport’s official governing body, would go against the grain for Ibrahimovic, given his identity as a player that has been knocked down and criticised by the game’s more mainstream voices, and has indeed used this to spur him on to even more mind-boggling feats of brilliance.

In that sense, here’s hoping he’s overlooked again this year, and that it encourages him to engage in yet another twelve months of ludicrous, ego-enhancing, crowd-pleasing nonsense. Then again, some proper recognition would hardly go amiss for a player who’s spent a consistently glittering career with a notable shortage of it.

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Alex Hess
Alex Hess
Alex is a freelance football writer and behind-the-scenes employee at the Guardian. Other than on Squawka, his work can be found most regularly over at Goal.com, as well as a chapter in the recently released Life's a Pitch Anthology.
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