Date: Wednesday 15th February 2012. Location: San Siro, Milan. Incident One, the Serie A Champions AC Milan brush aside Arsenal 4-0 in the first leg of their last 16 Champions League tie. Incident Two, the British broadcast media hurl another possibly unscrupulous attack at the talents of AC Milan’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
As you would’ve gathered we are going to be concentrating on the latter. Infact, there will be an overall look at the attitude of the British media in general. We should be used to this continual trend of criticism ‘Ibra’ seems to get, whenever a game he is featured in comes on in the UK but is it justified? Does he really struggle to control games? Is he overrated? What exactly is “the trouble with ‘Ibra’?”
The first time I myself blatantly realised that Ibrahimovic could be part of a witch-hunt was during the 2006 World Cup, while working for the BBC, Martin O’Neil said that Ibrahimovic was the ‘most overrated player on the planet’. Now after moving from Ajax he hadn’t excessively set the world alight from an individual perspective, considering what was expected of him in his two seasons at Juventus before the World Cup. In light of Juventus winning two titles, its clear this statement is a savage exaggeration. The ironic thing about this statement by O’ Neil, was that it was around this time that sections of the British media were suggesting that Chelsea’s Frank Lampard was the best midfielder in the world. This was because of his goalscoring exploits under Jose Mourinho after Chelsea had won back to back league titles. I think its best we leave that there, that’s another article in itself.
Ibrahimovic amazingly has been on the team that has won the league title in their respective country in his last seven seasons. Altogether it is remarkable that nine out of the last ten seasons he has played in he has captured titles, which is impressive. Two of these titles have effectively become void though as I’m sure we recall the match-fixing scandal that led to the ‘Old Lady’ being stripped of their Scudettos.
During ITV’s coverage of Milan’s win last against Arsenal, commentators Clive Tyldesley & Andy Townsend mentioned this success rate in regards to Ibrahimovic. However they quickly resorted to mention that Ibra is not a ‘big game’ player. Though Tyldesley is hardly Ibrahimovic’s biggest fan, his criticism was nowhere near on the scale of Townsend overall. Townsend used the game as the opportunity to have a pop at Ibrahimovic whenever possible, and this was not the first match he has done this in either.
His lack of involvement in the ‘bigger games’ was a justifiable argument at Juve, but since leaving them, surely Ibrahimovic has displaced any doubts about how good he actually is. Ibrahimovic left Juve after the match-fixing episode and joined Inter in 2006. In his 3 seasons there he scored 66 goals in 116 games and assisted 32 times. In the 08-09 season Ibra scored the ‘Goal Of The Year’ and finished the top scorer in Serie A with 25 goals. It was during this season in an interview his manager at the time Jose Mourinho said, ‘I think there are four outstanding players in the world – Ibrahimovic, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi & Kaka’. The ‘Special One’ also went on to say, ‘At the moment I think I have the best in the four – the best player in the world’. The additional part was used as a man management tool but one thing is for sure he rated him highly.
In 2009 he became the world’s second most expensive player when he joined Barcelona from Inter for 65 million euros. This deal was a part-exchange as Samuel Eto’o went the other way to Inter. The package clearly disrespected Eto’o who was only valued at 20 million euros. Prior to the goalscoring masterclass of Lionel Messi & Cristiano Ronaldo in the last 3 seasons, Eto’o had been the top goalscorer of any of the major European leagues since 2004.
In Ibrahimovic’s only season at Barca, he came off the bench to smash in a super volley against Real Madrid in a 1-0 win at the Nou Camp; arguably Barca’s most important goal of the season, as it gave them an early advantage in the title race.
Though scoring 22 goals in 44 appearances Ibrahimovic’s time at Barca is predominantly seen as a flop, no more than his owners who looked to ship when the opportunity arose. Now whether this was justified or not this was something the British Press were clearly happy to pick up on. This is also despite scoring 2 goals in the Champions League away to Arsenal, which eradicated one of the British media’s favourite comments; pertaining to a foreign player not scoring against a British opponent.
It makes you think have British journalists and commentators taken an almost xenophobic attitude towards Ibrahimovic. Prior to 2009’s Champions League final between Barca & Manchester United, you couldn’t take a breath without hearing that Lionel Messi had not scored against an English team. Messi scored in this final though, heading in the second goal that won the game. It wasn’t until that second goal that Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler decided to mention that Cristiano Ronaldo hadn’t scored against Spanish opposition before. The relevance of this is, before the game a lot of the talk was about who was better out of Ronaldo & Messi. Only a few negatives were bought out about Ronaldo’s game. Though he is not British; he played at the time in the Premiership, the ‘best league in the world’, which automatically gave him home-court advantage in debates.
Which leads perfectly onto the best individual to compare Ibrahimovic to, the aforementioned Rooney, to maybe more understand why Ibra is one of the main people the media target, let’s compare these two. Just before England’s 2010 World Cup opener against USA, Alan Shearer interviewed Rooney. Rooney, on the back of the best goalscoring season of his career and really his first spectacular season all round compared to how highly the British media rate him. Shearer opened the interview by saying ‘Wayne you come into this tournament as one of the best players in the world, if not the best’, Rooney nodded his head and said ‘yeah’ eagerly anticipating Shearer’s question.
At Manchester United Rooney played ‘Robin’ to Cristiano Ronaldo’s ‘Batman’ so how exactly did he become better then him after one season playing without him? Let us not forget Cristiano Ronaldo had enjoyed a superb opening season at Real Madrid. This was partizan media in full effect. Since leaving Juventus in ’06, the 09-10 season is the only time Rooney has scored more league goals than Ibrahimovic. Rooney however is deemed better though by the British media. Maybe if Ibra were British he’d be rated more? Or better yet if Rooney was from…let’s say Sweden would he be rated anywhere near as highly as he is? Now there’s some food for thought…
A classic prejudice of players outside of the Premiership is easy to spot when games are televised or covered by radio in the UK. If a player does anything good in a game, or is on a great scoring run, the prevailing comments come out. ‘Could he do it on a rainy day at the Brittania Stadium?’ ‘Could he do it on a windy day at Craven Cottage?’ Please spare us. I know a lot of people do follow what is going on in other leagues. To the others though, don’t be lemons, don’t restrict yourselves to following club football in one country. Then be easily prone to take what is shown to you by the media and take that into any arguments or debates you have concerning football. Some people really need to take their head out of their arse when it comes to other leagues and watch them more.
This season at least the form of David Silva in the Premier League has opened a few more peoples’ eyes to what can be done by someone with immense creative talent from abroad playing in England. Not too long ago though on BBC’s Match Of The Day, analyst Alan Hansen said that ‘Silva had been the player of the season so far’ in England. Presenter Gary Lineker asked ‘Better than Rooney?’ To which co-analyst Mark Lawrenson said ‘No’, again showing the bias I earlier talked of.
Ibrahimovic’s personality being criticised would be more understandable than his playing qualities. Some could question his loyalties, after already playing for Inter he left Barca after to join Milan, who are of course Inter’s fierce city rivals. In fact last season he scored a penalty to win a game against Inter and celebrated. This obviously didn’t go down too well. Players usually at the least don’t celebrate when scoring against their former team, (well they try to not celebrate excessively anyway). Ibra sometimes comes across as arrogant and when not involved directly with play his sometimes languid style makes him look disinterested. In terms of that type of player though, I’d prefer him to a Dimitar Berbatov at United or a Mirko Vucinic, now of Juventus.
In an interview with La Gazzeta in 2009, before Inter’s 2nd leg away to Manchester United in the Champions League, Ibra stated, ‘I know the English don’t like me. I know how much I’m worth and I also know if I played in England I wouldn’t play badly. I’d rather see how those are currently playing in England if they were to come to Italy’. This was in reply to the fact a section of the British media had referred to him as thinking he was the best player in the world, in comparison to Cristiano Ronaldo who they were stating was the best in the world. So he is aware of what has been said about him.
The trouble with Ibra, well this is a myth, he has missed some sitters over the years but no player scores with every single chance they get. His criticism stems from hyperbole from the British media. When he is fully in tune there aren’t many players better to watch in football. His movement, graceful touch and vision are a joy to watch and you always get your share of spectacular goals to rant and rave about. Long live Ibra. We will see at the end of the season if his run of winning league titles continues. Though some of his criticism should have stopped a long time ago, we’ll see how he is treated in Britain now after his Man Of The Match performance against Arsenal. During last the first leg, journalist Sam Wallace from the Independent tweeted ‘This is the best I’ve seen Zlatan play against an English team’. Bar a miracle Milan will progress to the next phase of the Champions League. So whether it’s on the radio or a televised game on Sky Sports or ITV, lets now see what is said of Ibra.
Daniel Dwamena (@DubulDee)