Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ibrahimovic: Magic or Misfit?

With whispers of Zlatan Ibrahimovic's possible transfer to Barcelona in the summer, the question presents itself: who is Zlatan exactly? Ibrahimovic is just as capable of physics-defying acrobatics (see his flying backheel against Bologna a few months ago) as mind-bending exhibitions of skill and technical ability (see his goal for Ajax against NAC Breda) a few years ago. The giant Swede stands alone with his combination of size, athletic ability and pure technical acumen. Day in and day out in the Serie A, he both bullies and bewilders his opponents with apparent ease.

For all his positives, Ibracadabra (as he is known affectionately to his supporters) seems to suffer from what I call the "Cristiano Ronaldo Effect". A consistent performer day in and day out on the "small" stages of the Serie A and Coppa Italia, Ibra seems to shrink from his responsibilities and disappear on the "big" stages of the UEFA Champions League, and the FIFA World Cup. While Cristiano Ronaldo has arguably shrugged off that underperforming reputation somewhat after scoring a goal and leading his side to a Champions League final victory, Ibrahimovic still has to prove himself under the limelight of international competition.

While it's obvious that Ibra has underperformed in major competitions, his talent is absolutely undeniable. In addition, it is my personal opinion that he has been relied too much upon by his respective club and national teams for their success. When Ibra does not play well, Inter and Sweden often do not play well. This holds true more for Inter than Sweden, but the fact remains that he is the lynchpin for both sides. In a side such as Barcelona, the weight of expectation is perhaps higher, but is also shared by other international superstars such as Leo Messi, Samuel Eto'o, Thierry Henry, Xavi, et al (depending on who remains after Zlatan's prospective transfer). With that weight lifted, Ibra may well be free to perform to the best of his ability on any stage.