The unexplained phenomenon that is Zlatan IbrahimoviÄ”¡

Richard Buxton
By Richard Buxton
Zlatan Ibrahimovic The striker's performance on Wednesday typified the phrase 'a game of two halves'
Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Theo Walcott’s conspiracy theory-like comparison between Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Barcelona and a game of FIFA 2010 will no doubt have had David Icke leaping to his soap box once again to scream “What did I tell you!?” to the disinterested masses.

However, the biggest unexplained phenomenon of the night was Zlatan IbrahimoviÄ”¡. The striker’s performance at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday, very much like the game itself, typified the phrase ‘a game of two halves’.

Before the interval the Sweden international appeared listless and was highly wasteful in front of goal, prompting critics to question Pep Guadriola’s decision last summer to offer Inter Milan €46 million plus a player worth €20m alone in Samuel Eto’o in exchange for the 28-year-old.

Within 15 minutes of the restart at the Emirates, Ibrahimovic broke his duck against English teams by executing two typically continental finishes to give his side a two-goal cushion. It was a Jekyll and Hyde-like transformation from the player who had trudged off at half time a very frustrated figure.

Given IbrahimoviÄ”¡’s track record for the Nerazzurri last term, those doubts appeared fully justified with a solitary goal in eight Champions League outings for Jose Mourinho’s side in addition to an accuracy percentage of a very low 26% with a ratio of 23:8 for shots off target.

Meanwhile his statistics for the Catalans this year in the same competition make slightly more encouraging reading with a tally of four goals from the same number of appearances he made for Inter in the tournament. His shot accuracy has also improved considerably as have his conversion chances.

But a brief glance over his domestic numbers compared to those in Serie A seems to indicate that the £60m gamble to bring the former Ajax and Juventus hitman to La Liga, especially given his prolificacy that saw him crowned the Italian top flight’s top scorer, is struggling to pay off with only 15 goals in 24 games.

Once upon a time Arsene Wenger attempted to lure the player to north London and the fact that his former Chelsea counterpart Mourinho rated IbrahimoviÄ”¡ higher than Barca team mate Lionel Messi and the Real Madrid duo of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka indicates the strength of the Swede’s abilities.

Most players in the game peak at very young and gradually tail off but, like Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney, IbrahimoviÄ”¡ appears to have improved with age. Wednesday’s showing merely provided an insight of what he offers the reigning European champions.

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