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The football enigma that is Zlatan Ibrahimovic raised a few eyebrows when talk materialised over the summer, that the Swedish striker – typically regarded as one of the finest in the world, and a one-time player of esteemed sides such as Inter, Barcelona and Juventus – would be set to quit AC Milan for the Qatari-rich project of Paris Saint-Germain, and the rather less alluring nature of Ligue 1.
‘PSG have already won the title’ – ‘Ibra is just going for the money’ were the nonsensical chants emanating from the Twittersphere, but soon after he completed his €20million move to the French capital, Ibrahimovic had at least (and as expected) begun to turn heads in Le Championnat.
Soon after sealing his transfer, did the 31-year-old quip: “It’s true I don’t know that much about Ligue 1, but Ligue 1 knows who I am.” – and that it was on matchday one, as FC Lorient rolled into town – aiming to put a dent on the Ibrahimovic bandwagon, and aiming to replicate their shock win at the Parc des Princes in 2011. That they did as Les Merlus raced into a stunning 2-0 lead, leaving many to lambast Carlo Ancelotti’s side as just another petty plaything of the oil-rich Middle Eastern nation. Enter Zlatan.
The Swede announced his arrival with two goals on his league debut. Firing low past Fabien Audard, and ensuring a thrilling start to the season with a late, late penalty to hand PSG a scarcely-deserved point. It was all about Ibrahimovic, the impact had been instant.
After a month, Ibrahimovic had scored all but one of PSG’s goals in five games – even missing one due to a knock. Les Parisiens had become necessarily a one-man team, lacking a certain substance in attack – despite having Kevin Gameiro, Guillaume Hoarau, Nene, Javier Pastore, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Jeremy Menez up front.
Ibra had re-invigorated a lagging PSG side with his goals, as match-winning doubles against Lille and Bastia, as well as further strikes against Toulouse ensured that Ancelotti’s men rose in the Ligue 1 table. His playing style perfectly suited the capital club. The former Milan striker would appear isolated up front, but one or two fantastic touches of the ball would bamboozle defenders (normally more physical in this division) – and of course, everyone would know what would come next.
Nevertheless, the 31-year-old’s crowning match came in the Clasico derby against fierce rivals Olympique de Marseille. After PSG surprisingly fell behind through Andre-Pierre Gignac’s well-measured strike, Zlatan would respond with two of the most fantastic goals of the season. Firstly, he rose ahead of a static Marseillais defence to karate kick the ball into the net, past a confused Steve Mandanda, before minutes later putting the visitors in front with a delicious long-range free-kick.
His international stature was well documented, but even by Zlatan’s standards his Ligue 1 form had been rather surprising against rearguards which were perceived in European football as too defensive, too physical and unlike the builds seen in Spain, England or Germany.
It would be more bewildering in his last two games (prior to Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Dynamo Kyiv) that Ibrahimovic had altered his playing style by dropping deeper to fashion and instigate opportunities for his team-mates, rather than stay up front and linger outside of defences. Result? Four assists in PSG’s demolition of Zagreb. That very week, he notched all four goals against England in the first ever game at Rasunda.
With Ibra, PSG ballooned to the top of the Ligue 1 standings. How important is he? Without his goals, les Parisiens would be a mammoth 12 points worse off, enough to place them in mid-table. Are PSG “Ibra-dependent”? Maybe, as his two-match suspension proved after he kicked out at Saint-Etienne goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier.
But no-one, and not even an ardent Marseille fan like myself can deny – Ibrahimovic has not only been a revelation for PSG, but also for Ligue 1. Long may it continue.
Written by Mohammed Ali
Follow him on Twitter @mohammedali_93
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