Zlatan Ibrahimovic recently signed a new one-year deal at AC Milan with the evergreen forward still going strong during the twilight of his career, the 38-year-old Swedish sensation continuing his journey around some of world football’s leading clubs with a second stint at the Rossoneri.
Ibrahimovic has swaggered into a succession of Europe’s elite with his unique and ever-confident charisma, winning a wealth of major honours including a barely believable 11 league titles across four different countries and plundering over 500 career goals to date.
Following the announcement of his continuation with Milan, we’ve decided to look back at the unforgettable career path of a modern great and rate Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s impact at each of his nine clubs:
Zlatan’s footballing journey began in his native Sweden with hometown club Malmo, the young forward idolising the likes of Ronaldo and Gabriel Batistuta as he sought to make a career in the sport.
The son of Bosnian and Croatian immigrants, Ibrahimovic soon make a name for himself in the colours of Malmo, making his debut in the late nineties and scoring 18 goals in 47 appearances for the club in all competitions, the performances of the teenager soon attracting the attention of clubs from across Europe.
After turning down a trial at Arsenal he signed for Ajax in a deal worth €8.7m and his exploits since have proven a source of pride to the Malmo fans, though his relationship with his former side deteriorated in spectacular fashion after the news of his investment in rival Allsvenskan club Hammarby last year.
The forward became the first player in history to score for six different Champions League sides with the first of those being Dutch giants Ajax, Ibrahimovic joining an exciting side shortly after the turn of the millennium including talents such as Rafael van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder.
After a period of adaptation he began to earn regular inclusion in the side and helped fire the Amsterdam outfit to a domestic double during the 2001/02 campaign, before adding a second title two seasons later.
Amongst his highlights was a stunning solo goal against NAC Breda which ranks firmly amongst the finest of his career, a slaloming run past a succession of challenges which emphasised the talents of the mercurial Swede.
His time in the Netherlands was not without controversy, however, including a much publicised fall-out with the aforementioned Van der Vaart whilst on international duty.
The midfielder accused Zlatan of deliberately injuring him during a clash between Sweden and Holland, a claim that left Ibrahimovic threatening to ‘break the legs’ of his teammate and seeing him pushed towards the Ajax exit door.
Italian football was Ibrahimovic’s next venture with a €16m move to Juventus, where – following an injury to David Trezeguet – he forced his way into the starting line up to fire the Bianconeri to the title.
The Swedish striker handled the step up to one of Europe’s major leagues admirably and scored an impressive 16 goals during his debut season in Turin, his performances rewarded with the Serie A Foreign Footballer of the Year accolade.
His second season proved less productive despite Juventus winning a second successive title, a change in role diminishing Ibrahimovic’s goal output as he managed just seven league goals for the season.
Those proved to be his final goals in a Juventus shirt as the club were relegated for their involvement in the Calciopoli scandal, their titles subsequently revoked and Zlatan sold on to one of the club’s biggest rivals.
Inter Milan won the race for one of world football’s best young forwards and it proved an inspired move for both club and player, Ibrahimovic thriving as the focal point of a Nerazzurri side that dominated Serie A in the absence of established rivals.
Ibrahimovic’s debut season saw him finish as Inter’s leading league scorer as the club finished as champions in stunning style, winning a record 17 consecutive league fixtures to boast a 22-point winning margin over runners-up Roma at the end of the campaign.
That triumph was the first of three successive Scudetto successes at the San Siro, the Swede scoring 66 goals during that period and twice being named as Serie A’s Footballer of the Year.
Zlatan’s final season with Inter saw him finish as the league’s leading scorer with 25 goals, flourishing under the guidance of Jose Mourinho to establish himself as arguably the best player in Italian football.
Ibrahimovic was at the forefront of Barcelona’s wish-list as the Catalan side sought additional star power for their treble-winning side in 2009, but what promised to be a career-defining move for the forward ended in frustration at the Camp Nou.
Despite an impressive start to life in Spain in terms of goalscoring, the egotistical and self-appreciating style of Zlatan proved ill-suited to the team-first mentality of Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Barcelona side.
Not for the first time in Ibrahimovic’s career, he butted heads with his manager and the breakdown in his relationship with Guardiola saw him last just a single season at Barcelona, the Swede holding nothing back in his assessment of the Spanish tactician.
“Guardiola was staring at me and I lost it. I thought, ‘there is my enemy, scratching his bald head!’ I yelled: ‘You haven’t got any b***s!’ and worse than that I added: ‘You can go to hell!’ I completely lost it, and you might have expected Guardiola to say a few words in response, but he’s a spineless coward.”
– Zlatan on Barcelona’s Champions League exit to Inter in 2010
Ibrahimovic scored 21 goals in all competitions during his sole season in Barcelona but Lionel Messi’s shift into a central role – plus his deteriorating and fractious relationship with Guardiola – spelt the end of a failed mega-money transfer as he was shipped on loan to AC Milan.
Ibrahimovic returned to Milan but in the colours of Inter’s cross-city rivals, where his performances upon returning to Italy helped his new side to Serie A title success.
The Swede scored 14 league goals and provided a further 11 assists to be named as the division’s Footballer of the Year for a third time, becoming the first three-time winner of the accolade following a scintillating season at the San Siro.
Milan secured the star’s signing on a permanent basis and despite failing to defend their title the next season, it proved to be the most prolific campaign of Zlatan’s career to date as he scored 28 league goals to win a second career Capocannoniere as Serie A’s leading scorer.
Firmly established as one of the greatest forwards in world football he seemed to have settled once more in Italian football, only for Milan’s financial difficulties to force the club to part with their prized asset in a bid to balance the books.
Qatari backed Paris Saint-Germain was Zlatan’s next destination and the forward proved to be an inspirational figure in the club’s ascent to the upper echelons of world football, scoring an incredible 156 goals in just 180 appearances as the Parisian’s emerged as France’s dominant force.
That remarkable haul saw Ibrahimovic become the club’s all-time record goalscorer – subsequently broken by Edinson Cavani – and win a wealth of team and individual honours, including four consecutive Ligue 1 titles.
He was named as Ligue 1’s Player of the Season three times and finished as the division’s leading scorer on each occasion, cementing himself as an unforgettable figure in the history of an emerging superpower.
Zlatan became the first player in more than three decades to score 30 goals in a league season, his 38 goals in just 31 games in 2015/16 the second-highest ever managed in a Ligue 1 campaign, behind only Marseille legend Josip Skoblar.
He ranks as a PSG legend for his contribution to the club’s modern growth, but a failure to end the club’s Champions League wait counts against him in our ratings.
There remains an unfounded logic amongst entitled Premier League fans that no player is worth one’s salt without handling the rigours of the English game, the trivial questions regarding a cold and rain-soaked night in Stoke or any other unfashionable UK location often pointed towards the game’s foreign greats.
Zlatan was no stranger to jibes from English football fans following a rather indifferent record against Premier League sides in Europe, only for the uber-confident forward to pitch up at Manchester United at the grand old age of 34.
A move to Old Trafford gave the veteran an opportunity to reunite with Jose Mourinho and silence his doubters, which he did in some style with a hugely impressive 28-goal debut season.
Ibrahimovic was far from the tour-de-force of old but he showcased he had lost none of his goalscoring instinct, firing United to League Cup and Europa League success, including a match-winning brace in the final of the former.
A career-threatening knee injury ultimately curtailed his spell in England, Zlatan sending a one-fingered salute to those who doubted his evergreen credentials before packing his bags for the MLS.
“I came, I saw, I conquered” were the ever humble words of Ibrahimovic after calling an end to his time at LA Galaxy, a productive stint in which he showed himself to be a cut above the competition.
Even a Zlatan in the twilight of his career proved a nightmare proposition for MLS defences, scoring 53 goals in just 58 appearances for the club, his star appeal a dream for US supporters craving a sporting spectacle.
He left, however, having failed to lift silverware with the Galaxy.
Unprepared to allow his career to wind-down in Major League Soccer, Zlatan returned to Europe for a second stint at AC Milan, his former side having fallen on rather tougher times since his previous spell at the San Siro.
Any doubts the veteran would struggle back in Europe after his serious knee injury and stint in the MLS were soon removed, however, Zlatan proving to be the catalyst behind a second half of the season resurgence in Milan.
The forward scored 10 goals in just 16 league starts after arriving in the winter window, providing Milan with a sense of leadership and presence as they secured Europa League football with a late season unbeaten run.
Who knows how long Zlatan can continue after penning a new one-year deal, but few would bet against football’s Benjamin Button from writing yet more chapters into his sporting story.