Despite the player insisting that he hasn’t opened talks with anyone, speculation continues to link Zlatan Ibrahimovic with a Bosman move to Arsenal in the summer, not hurt by his agent saying that he wants to play in England.
Way back in August I was asked to write a piece about his expiring contract, and whether I thought he would be a good fit for Arsenal.
At the time, despite my enduring love for the player, I said no.
After everything that has happened since then, my stance has made an 180-degree turnaround.
Indeed, had I known that Welbeck had a serious injury, Walcott would embark on his worst run of form for over five years and that the manager wouldn’t see fit to buy any strikers at all, I’d have bitten your hand off.
However, that is all hindsight, and I’m thinking of the club going forward.
As such there are several reasons why this season at Arsenal and the giant Swede’s own year now have me feeling that he could be an ideal fit after all.
Our needs have become starker, there aren’t a whole load of available options, and he has proved doubters wrong again.
But there are at least eight reasons that spring to mind in particular:
1) Too many nice guys, not enough ego!
Zlatan is invariably criticised for his now legendary ego, and there is no doubt that he holds himself in high esteem. But he can justify it more than most.
He is his country’s best ever player. He has been the star man at most teams he has played for (and being second fiddle to the holy trinity of Xavi, Iniesta and Messi is hardly a failure).
He has broken a LOT of records. So fair enough.
A team like Arsenal need an infusion of unshakeable self-confidence in a major way.
Despite the manager’s protestations, our squad may be full of nice guys who respect and work for each other, but their lack of self-belief has been self-evident of late, even without Alexis admitting as much in his recent interview.
He can certainly be confrontational with team-mates, and perhaps there are questions about how that would fit in North London. But as Amy Lawrence’s interview filled book shows, the Invincibles were hardly a docile lot.
Big personalities can disrupt harmony, but no one minded Thierry’s ego at Arsenal, and as long as you win, you can be as egotistical as you like. And on that note…
2) Ibra is a winner
We’ve all heard plenty about not having enough winners in the squad. Well, there are few players who have been winners more consistently than Zlatan. He’s won 13 league titles in four countries with six teams in 14 years. The one season he hasn’t won a league title was his second with Milan, where they finished runners-up to a resurgent Juventus despite him scoring 28 goals in 32 Serie A games.
To put it into context, he’s won more league titles than the entire Arsenal squad, despite stellar careers elsewhere of Cech, Ozil and Alexis. Certainly Rio Ferdinand agrees; “clubs should be looking at this guy to come over here and be the catalyst to winning things because that’s what he does – he wins things. What he’d bring to Arsenal is a mentality, what they’re lacking to win. To get over the line and win titles. He’s done that more than anyone.”
But he doesn’t just play in winning teams…he propels them…
3) Goals, Goals, Goals
Ibrahimovic has scored 377 goals in League, Cup and European matches at considerably better rate than a goal every two games. This is impressive enough in itself. What is really extraordinary, however, is how his goalscoring ratio has improved as he has got older. Most strikers peak in their mid to late 20s and then tail off.
Since turning 30, Zlatan has banged in 176 in 211 games in all competitions, with this season so far providing his best ever ratio. While it may well be easier to shine in French football’s equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters, he has kept big club magnet Edinson Cavani out of the centre forward’s position for three years, despite being five years older than the Uruguayan.
He also has 62 goals in 111 appearances for a largely rubbish Swedish National team, again at a massively improving rate, with 34 of those coming in his last 34 games.
And it’s not just goals he brings…
4) Assists too!
As we all know, despite being 6 ft 5″ and built like a boxer, Zlatan is not just a number-9 target man. Indeed, the man who wears number 10 for his country is an archetypal 9-and-a-half, the like of which we haven’t seen since Robin Van Persie. While big and strong enough to hold the ball up in and around the box like Olivier Giroud, he is also more than happy to drop deep and thread through balls to onrushing midfielders or quick wide-men.
He’s got an eye for that final ball too.
As well as the 176 goals scored since turning 30, he’s setup 76 for his team-mates, despite generally being the furthest man forward. At the moment, the only player regularly creating chances for others at Arsenal is Mesut Ozil. But Zlatan doesn’t just stop there.
In addition, to will to win, goals and assists, he also provides…
The question of leaders or a lack of them has plagued Arsenal since Patrick Vieira left, and more than ever this season. Zlatan would certainly up the ante.
As captain of his country, he has shouldered the burden of preventing their slip into utter mediocrity (which looking at his teammates would be inevitable without him) and has almost dragged them to several major European Championships. At PSG, he is vice-captain and his manager Laurent Blanc has given him a ringing endorsement – “He is one of the leaders of the team. People should not forget he is a leader and he has been one for quite some time.”
For years, he was treated as the rogue genius, nowhere more than during his unhappy season under Guardiola at Barca.
His next coach, Max Allegri, was smarter and encouraged his centre-forward to take on a leadership role. Since then he has been captain or vice captain for six years at Milan and PSG and his offensive output has gone through the roof.
As with Sweden, Zlatan is best when his team needs him. Arsenal need a leader, and could provide the challenge he needs…
Most players start to slow down into their 30s, as their bodies wear down and the fire inside wanes. Not so the big man. As already discussed his goals, assists and trophies are racking up quicker than ever, and he now receives serious notices at the Ballon d’Or awards annually.
For a nomadic colossus, Arsenal would be a perfect challenge.
Neither player, nor club, nor Manager have ever won the Champions League though all three have been close.
Zlatan has never played in England and clearly has had a chip on his shoulder about being underappreciated in this country, which he highlighted as the motivation behind his four-goal display for Sweden against England – including THAT goal.
He really really really doesn’t like Guardiola, and would probably love to get one over on the Spaniard. Oh, and apparently he doesn’t Chelsea either.
And lastly, and possibly most pertinently for our board and manager…
7) Money Money Money
We can all guess that Ibra’s wages would be HUGE. Probably, at least, one and a half times our existing ceiling. But, being out of contract, there would be no fee.
Even just looking at the mathematics of that, it would be the cheapest way for the club to acquire a top class striker in the short term (and hopefully buy the time to grow another away from the pressure of leading the team).
Quite apart from that, though, we’ve heard all kinds of talk of wanting to grow the brand, even from the silent one over the sea, and you can bet the man who only needs the first two letters of his name on Google would bring brand growth.
Imagine how many shirts they would sell with his name on it, quite apart from the thousands of other opportunities. Ozil is a genius, but not a marketable star in the same way.
Such a statement of intent would undoubtedly be very significant in terms of the club’s perception while probably also having a positive knock-on effect on getting the likes of Ozil and Sanchez to renew contracts, thus saving more money in the long run.
8) It would be incredibly entertaining – and not just for the obvious reasons
As well as the genius footballer with the martial arts finishing skills, there is a compelling character lurking within Zlatan. Ok, so we all know he’s a little bonkers and is a grade-A quote generator.
But it’s not just as simple as the ego-heavy interview replies would suggest. After all, his award-nominated autobiography may have contained such gems as “I was unhappy. But I carried on being brilliant”, but as it turned out, all the quotes were made up by the ghost writer, as a sort of character.
“You can imagine the moment when I, the fake Zlatan Ibrahimovic, had to send the manuscript to the real Zlatan Ibrahimovic,” and Ibrahimovic was sufficiently amused to let the book be published as a straight autobiography.
Of course, there are the real ones too; “Who is most deserving of all of the money that I, Zlatan, am paid? The answer is Zlatan.”
But it’s not all ego, mocking journalists or playing character games. He famously covered himself in temporary tattoos to raise awareness for famine, or less famously paid for the Swedish national football team for the intellectually disabled to the INAS World Football Championships in Brazil.
The key thing is, whatever Zlatan does, it’s worth watching.
And Thierry Henry says we should sign him too, so that’s good enough for me!
And if you STILL aren’t convinced….