Relax, people of the Internet. I, too love me some Zlatan. Look, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a monster of a soccer player in every sense of the word. I am obviously, as you should be, scared of Zlatan.
Allow me to explain.
First, please watch some of this 8 minute video on youtube:
Ok, let’s continue. For those, who don’t know, the 34 year old Swede is 6ft 5 and weighs 215 lbs and is a blackbelt in taekwando. How about now?
He is also probably and rightfully the 3rd best, if not the 3rd most popular soccer player of the last 10 years behind Messi and Ronaldo. His aggregated transfer value is in excess of 200 million dollars. From a footballing perspective, the combination of his spectacular athleticism, strength – combined with lightning quick feet and a dazzling array of moves, have turned him into a unique center forward, the likes of which world football has not seen since the glory days of Marco Van Basten.
Having started his career in Sweden, Ibra has literally won the league for every team he has played for and as of October 4, has become PSG’s all time leading scorer with 110 goals. This is his 4th season at the club, by the way.
I also appreciate his master level trolling of world football, from his hilarious „autobiography” (which you should check out at http://www.amazon.com/Am-Zlatan-Story-Off-Field/dp/081298692X) and how he has embraced the role of top asshole. (I was going to write douche, but that’s not a word befitting Zlatan.)
Zlatan, as of this October, is now 34 years old. In this age of ubercompetitive, year round world football, it’s basically unthinkable that a 34 year old center forward (much less someone with his size) would be able to play close to 75 games at a top level. Based on this year’s matches and the undefeated record of Father Time, I’m going to argue, that Ibra, despite playing in the friendly confines of Ligue 1 has lost several steps, and thus should no longer be considered an elite forward. I’ll be using a comparison between what the statistics show against what I’ve seen from him this year (the eye test) in France and in the Champions League.
Stats vs. The Eye Test
According to the excellent whoscored.com, Zlatan rates as the best player in France, with 7 goals and 3 assists in 7 games, and PSG lead the league by 7 points.
So, on the surface, half of my argument collapses. My counterpoint, to that is that Ligue 1 has never really been among the elite leagues of soccer, but more of a feeder system/ stepping stone from the likes of Michael Essien and Didier Drogba, to more recently Anthony Martial towards the greener pastures of the EPL, La Liga, etc. Currently, most fans would rate Ligue 1 barely in the top 5, but probably no higher than the 5th best league in the world. The top 4 would probably be La Liga, EPL, Bundesliga, Serie A, with the leagues of Argentina, Portugal, Brazil and France fighting for 5th. For comparison, last year, IFFHS rated it 7th. http://iffhs.de/the-worlds-strongest-national-league-2014/\
I mentioned that PSG lead the league by 7 points. What about the competition? The Parisians are ahead of 2nd place Angers (“a city 190miles west of Paris in the Anjou province” – according to Wikipedia), a side that has played in the 3rd division for 8 years from 1996 to 2007 and in Ligue 2 until gaining promotion last year!. At the risk of condescension, there is not a single notable name on their roster, which is made up of late twenties Ligue 2 players and other fringe names. I dare you to click on it, though. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angers_SCO
In third place, is SM Caen, from Normandy who was promoted in 2014, after bouncing back and forth between the top and second flights.
Lyon (in 4th place), Monaco (8th) and Marseille (14th) three of the traditional powerhouses are firmly in PSG’s rearview mirror, due in large part of their export heavy approach. Whether, that is their fault, or the fault of the brutal hierarchy of world football is a question that is outside the scope of our discussion today.
Regardless, it’s safe to say, that PSG and Ibra are playing great in a heavily diluted, inferior league, where their fixtures are often hardly challenging. Suffice it to say, it is not a gigantic accomplishment to stand out in a watered down league, whose best talents are continually poached by more affluent clubs.
Let us turn our attention to Europe and the UEFA Champions League, the pinnacle of world football competition, and see how our hero has fared there so far. Using whoscored.com, we can conclude that Zlatan has played in 255 minutes in 3 games, with 0 goals and 1 assist. http://www.whoscored.com/Players/3281/Show/Zlatan-Ibrahimovic
The competition has been a mixed bag. Ibra’s hometown team FK Malmö of Sweden, albeit undoubtedly a sentimental favorite for the Swede, can hardly be called tough competition. He had 47 touches, as he picked up his lone assist for Edinson Cavani’s goal against them in a 2-0 win.
In their second UCL game against Shakhtar, he had 70 touches in a 3-0 victory, with a rather mediocre looking heat map.
PSG and Ibrahimovic’s 3rd and toughest test came on October 20th, versus perennial favorites, Real Madrid. According to the numbers, he had 70 touches and the following heat map in an exciting goalless draw. He had 2 shots, none on goal and 1 foul created in 90 minutes of action.
Those are far from incredible numbers, and it’s always a bad sign, if your offensive juggernaut of a team fails to score, with your ace center forward failing to get a single shot on goal. But what about the eye test, you ask? Having watched this game closely I noticed the following things about Ibra’s performance:
- He looks slow physically, but more importantly, mentally. There were at least 8 or 9 times where PSG were on the verge of breaking for a counter, only for the Swede to needlessly hold the ball up. Perhaps he was contemplating a lovely piece of skill, or thinking about how awesome his life is (and who wouldn’t!) and then generally made a bad decision, usually picking a weak or ineffective pass and/or turning the ball over. Again, he is 34 years old.
- As the heat map shows, he is dropping deeper in almost a false 9 / central attacking midfielder area. The idea, presumably, if this is on purpose is to create running room for PSG’s other attacking options (Cavani, di Maria). In actuality, this never happened, as Cavani, a natural center forward who looked visibly frustrated at being deployed as a left winger was ineffective in the first half. Di Maria started positively in the first 15 minutes, but drifted out of the game hopelessly and was subbed midway through the second half. PSG tried to deploy Cavani in a more central role in the 2nd half, which lead to some uncomfortable moments for Real Madrid.
- Ibra is always offside. PSG lead the UCL in getting caught offside 21 times in 3 games, and the big Swede halted several attacks, with his lazy positioning and inconsistent effort. Again, poor effort and inattentiveness without the ball are probably fine in Ligue 1, but are just not good enough at the highest level.
So in conclusion, not good enough at the highest level is the final verdict on Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s performance this year. While he has some inflated numbers, thanks to playing in an inferior league, the Swedish striker is no longer the player he was 3 or 4 years ago. His physical skills have slipped, his inability to make quick decisions and his general inattentiveness have sadly turned him into an over the hill, frustrating to watch player.
They will probably run away with the league in France, but if PSG are serious about contending in Europe this season manager Laurent Blanc, who has stated after the match that he has “no choice” but to hope that the Ibra/Cavani/Di Maria trio improve) has to give some serious thought to BENCHING Zlatan. Bon chance, mon ami! – Or as they say in South Central, L.A. – Don’t get DEEEBO’D!!!
What do you think? Please vote below!