Ibrahimovic at 40 years old: 40 times Zlatan lived up to his own hype


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Happy birthday, Zlatan Ibrahimovic! The outspoken AC Milan striker turns 40 on Oct. 3, but despite being born in the same year that gave us the DeLorean sports car and “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Ibra is still going strong in a glittering career in which he has also represented hometown club Malmo, Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United, LA Galaxy and the Sweden national team.

Not many professional footballers are still playing at the elite level as they enter their fifth decade (especially outfield players), but Ibra is showing no signs of slowing down or giving up quite yet.

To celebrate the milestone, we offer tribute to an iconoclastic player who has forged his own path throughout his career, producing as many self-aggrandising quips as he has scored goals over the course of 22 years and across seven different countries. Here are 40 times the self-styled “lion” has lived up to his own hype — one moment for every year of his life so far.

First of all, let’s allow his formidable stats to speak for themselves.

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1. He has scored vast amounts of goals wherever he’s played

Malmo: 18 goals in 47 games
Ajax: 48 goals in 110 games
Juventus: 26 goals in 92 games
Inter Milan: 66 goals in 117 games
Barcelona: 22 goals in 46 games
AC Milan: 85 goals in 133 games (over two spells)
Manchester United: 29 goals in 53 games
LA Galaxy: 53 goals in 58 games
Sweden: 62 goals in 118 games

That’s a career total of 565 senior goals in 954 games for club and country, at an overall strike rate of 1 goal every 1.68 games.

2. He’s up there with the world’s best goal scorers

Ibrahimovic stands tall among the world’s best strikers who are still plying their trade. Of the five highest-scoring active players in world football, he is third on the list behind only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi (goal totals correct as of Oct. 1, 2021).

1. Cristiano Ronaldo: 790 goals
2. Lionel Messi: 752 goals
3. Zlatan Ibrahimovic: 565 goals
4. Robert Lewandowski: 544 goals
5. Luis Suarez: 491 goals

3. He loves a hat trick

Ibrahimovic has scored a total of 16 hat tricks at club level and a further four at international level, giving him 20 career trebles overall.

4. Saint-Etienne are sick of him

Of the countless opponents he has faced during his long career, no team has suffered more at the hands (and feet, and head) of Zlatan Ibrahimovic than poor old Saint-Etienne. The Swede has notched 17 goals in 15 games against the Ligue 1 club — more than he’s scored against any other side. Ibra has also notched an incredible 12 goals against both Palermo (in 15 games) and AS Roma (21) in Italy.

5. On a roll

The longest career scoring streak Ibrahimovic has amassed is seven straight games, between November 2011 and January 2012, during his first stint with Milan.

6. Goal-den oldie

Ibrahimovic is the oldest non-Italian player to score a goal in the entire 123-year history of Serie A. Earlier in September, in his first appearance for Milan since returning from injury, Ibrahimovic claimed the accolade by scoring in a 2-0 win over Lazio. Aged 39 years and 344 days at the time, the Rossoneri striker broke the record previously held by former Parma centre-back Bruno Alves.

7. So. Many. Trophies.

Ibrahimovic has won 11 league titles across four different countries (Netherlands, Italy, Spain, France), while his overall career trophy haul stands at 33. The trophy he has won more times than any other is the French Ligue 1 title (4), all of which came during his four seasons at PSG between 2012 and 2016.

8. Champions League royalty

He might have never won Europe’s premier competition, but as things stand, Ibrahimovic can claim to be the only player to score in the Champions League for six different clubs.

Ajax: 6 goals in 19 games
Juventus: 3 goals in 19 games
Inter Milan: 6 goals in 22 games
Barcelona: 4 goals in 10 games
AC Milan: 9 goals in 16 games
Paris Saint-Germain: 20 goals in 33 games

9. Double centurion

To gain entry to just one “100 Club” across Europe’s “Big Five” leagues is impressive enough. However, Ibrahimovic can claim two memberships as the only player to score 100 or more goals in both Ligue 1 (France) and Serie A (Italy).

10. He has won the Puskas Award

Ibra won the Puskas Award — FIFA’s annual prize for the world’s best goal of the year across the men’s and women’s games — in 2014 for this ridiculous long-range overhead kick against England. Incredibly, this was his fourth goal of the game, with three of them coming in the final 15 minutes of the match to seal a 4-2 win.

11. That was no fluke, either

In fact, Ibrahimovic has been nominated for the Puskas Award four times. Only Lionel Messi (7) and Neymar (5) have been shortlisted for the prize more than the Swede. He was first nominated in 2011 for his long-range goal against Lecce before winning it two years later. He got another nod in 2014 for his back-heeled volley against Bastia, before a further nomination came in 2019 for his twisting kung-fu volley against Toronto — the 500th goal of his career.

12. The man with the Golden Foot

A sign of how Ibrahimovic was not going to let age dim his talents came in 2012 when he won the prestigious Golden Foot award, the prize given to the best player in the world over the age of 29. The award has also been won by the likes of Roberto Baggio, Pavel Nedved, Alessandro Del Piero, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Andres Iniesta. Not bad company, eh?

Ibrahimovic was awarded the Golden Foot after winning eight topflight titles in a row with Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona and AC Milan between 2003 and 2011.

13. The man with the Guldbollen

Nobody has been named Swedish male footballer of the year more times than Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The iconic striker has won the Guldbollen (Golden Ball) a whopping 12 times in total, including 10 years in a row between 2007 and 2016, before defender Andreas Granqvist finally broke his streak.

14. He proved doubters in England wrong

They said he was a spent force when he signed for Manchester United in 2016 at the age of 34. Oh, how wrong they were. Ibrahimovic scored 28 goals in his first season at Old Trafford and helped United to win the Europa League, EFL Cup and Community Shield before leaving for LA in March 2018.

15. He ruled the Galaxy

Of course, having come surfing in on a wave of bravado, Ibrahimovic then went on to fully introduce himself to the people of Los Angeles by scoring a couple of absolute stunners on his Galaxy debut.

16. Sweden still needs him

Ibrahimovic has been recalled into the Sweden national team for its next round of international fixtures, by which time he’ll be 40. Ibra initially retired from international football at the age of 34 after Euro 2016, but five years later, he has been summoned back into the fold. The striker was originally recalled to take part in World Cup 2022 qualifiers back in March, but a knee injury forced him out of the equation — though not before he had delivered the news with trademark subtlety.

17. He’s his biggest fan

Never shy when it comes to speaking his mind, Ibrahimovic has churned out some truly memorable quotes over the years — mostly themed around how unerringly brilliant he believes himself to be. Favourites include “I can’t help but laugh at how perfect I am,” or his humble parting line upon exiting PSG: “I came like a king, left like a legend.”

18. He can keep a whole country guessing

Zlatan has handled his PR with aplomb, regularly seizing the opportunity make himself the centre of attention. In 2019 following the expiration of his LA Galaxy contract, he set tongues wagging in Spain by slyly hinting at a return to LaLiga. Alas, it eventually transpired that the video was actually all just a promotional launch for a new Spanish gambling company.

19. He’s arm-wrestling Satan

Between referring to himself as a lion in human form to literally deifying himself, Ibrahimovic has earned a reputation for the grandiose. There’s no better example of this than the epic image of him arm-wrestling the king of the underworld in a battle between heaven and hell, which he used to announce his arrival at (and subsequent departure from) Manchester United, the club nicknamed “The Red Devils.”

20. “Dear Los Angeles … You’re Welcome”

Who else would take out a full-page advertisement in the Los Angeles Times just to announce to the entire city that it was lucky to have him?

21. He has acting chops

While out in the U.S., Ibrahimovic proved that he has decent acting skills and comedic timing by starring in a skit for ESPN’s SportsCenter. Asked if he’d given any consideration to a post-football career in acting, the striker admitted that he could be tempted if a lead role in an action franchise happened to come along. “Acting, I’m curious,” he told TMZ Sports, before adding that he’d be interested in a “Jason Bourne-type” role if something came along. We can only hope.

22. He wowed the U.S. late-night TV circuit

Ibrahimovic also did the rounds on the late-night chat shows during his stint in California, gamely taking part in interviews and sketches for talk shows like “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and “The Late Late Show” — including a memorable turn as a fortune teller alongside the host of the latter, James Corden.

23. He even beat the DMV

Ibrahimovic was forced to take his U.S. driving test like the rest of us mere mortals, leading to an amusing photo of the Galaxy superstar going through the motions at the local DMV. Afterward he was asked how many answers he missed, to which he responded: “Zlatan never misses. It was the system that failed.”

24. Shaq attack

It was also in Los Angeles that Ibrahimovic finally met one of the few athletes capable of looking down on him. In fairness to him, meeting LA Lakers legend Shaquille O’Neal has that effect on almost everybody.

25. You don’t get a statue for nothing

Back in October of 2019, the city of Malmo unveiled a gigantic golden tribute to Ibrahimovic, one of its most famous sons. It then took mere days before the statue was first vandalised, and a couple of months later, it was toppled completely when local ultras took umbrage at Ibrahimovic purchasing a 25% stake in Malmo’s league rivals, Hammarby.

The statue might not be destined to live forever, but Ibrahimovic’s typically humble quip about it will.

26. His name is in the dictionary

Zlatanera” (“to ‘zlatanate'”) was officially added to the Swedish national dictionary in 2013, meaning “to dominate or be the best at something on or off the field.”

27. He has his own postage stamps in Sweden

Naturally, they’re all first class.

28. He appears on a Swedish banknote

It’s all about the Zlatans.

29. He even has his own burger

During his spell in Paris, Ibrahimovic became personified in the world of French cuisine when Doddy’s Cafe put the Zlatan Burger on its menu. The €29 ($33) burger was made with 600 grams (21 ounces) of beef with onions, bacon and four different types of cheese including cheddar, Emmental and Auvergne blue, all contained in a giant bun that was made specially for this beast of a feast.

30. There’s a movie being made of his life

As if stamps, banknotes and burgers weren’t enough, soon we will be able to see “I Am Zlatan.” the biopic of Ibrahimovic’s life based on his best-selling autobiography. The movie was originally due for release this month, but will now be unleashed upon the world in January.

31. He’s worth his weight in gold

When it comes to cumulative transfer fees, Ibrahimovic is one of the top 10 most expensive players ever. Chelsea star Romelu Lukaku tops the chart with total career fees of £288.8 million, but the seasoned Swedish striker isn’t far behind, having moved from club to club for a total of £152.19m over the course of his career.

32. He can handle silverware

He might have missed Manchester United’s 2017 Europa League final victory through injury, but Ibrahimovic still stole the show by managing to brandish the huge trophy in one hand and make it look like it was nothing.

33. His body is a work of art

Ibrahimovic has carefully curated his look, adopting a grizzled samurai persona and decorating his body with a gallery of mystical art. Among his extensive collection of tattoos are a giant lion across his entire back, koi, feathers, various antediluvian symbols, Chinese dragons and a pair of playing cards on his ribs.

34. He works hard so he can play hard

There’s no way Ibrahimovic could still be playing at 40 if he hadn’t taken extremely good care of himself. He regularly shares images and videos of the punishing workouts he puts himself through in order to maintain his enviable peak physical condition. However, his choice of workout songs is slightly less imposing: he once revealed he loves to train with “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice, “Shine” by Aswad and “Bad Boys” — the theme from “COPS,” blaring in the background from his special workout playlist, “Inner Gold.”

35. He didn’t always have the look of a battle-hardened warrior

Before the samurai look, it’s worth recalling that Ibrahimovic was once a pleasant, smiley, slightly dorky teenager who enjoyed nothing more than whizzing around Amsterdam on his bicycle. He re-created the post in Los Angeles many years later, though by that point the innocence of youth had long been lost.

36. He can rock a Christmas sweater

Proving that he can still be wholesome once in a while, Ibra is willing to wedge his tongue in his cheek and agree to model Milan’s festive knitwear. It’s not one of the fashion capitals of the world for nothing.

37. He has rallied with Djokovic

As far as other sporting pursuits are concerned, it’s fairly common knowledge that Ibrahimovic has a black belt in taekwondo. However, he also demonstrated a keen interest in tennis and even graced the court at the Paris Masters in 2013 for a lively prematch rally with Novak Djokovic. His physical prowess is obvious, though his technique could certainly use a little work.

38. He has conquered the great outdoors

Ibrahimovic loves to embark upon fishing and horse trekking excursions from time to time, sharing photos of his adventures on his Instagram account. He also chose to go mountain climbing in Sweden instead of watching the 2014-15 Champions League final, chiefly because he wasn’t in it. (PSG lost to eventual winners Barca in the quarterfinals.)

39. He loves a challenge

For all the brooding and pouting, Ibrahimovic is no stranger to taking part in various challenges that have swept social media in recent years. He’s had a stab at both the Matrix challenge and the bottle cap challenge, while also engaging in a lighthearted remote freestyle duel with pal Paul Pogba during the early days of the COVID-19 lockdowns.

40. He’s only human

Even the great Ibra has to accept that he’s not perfect. To err is to be human, after all. There is one thing he’s not very good at: 10-pin bowling. We offer you the celebrity hi-scores board from the All Star Lanes bowling alley in Manchester as proof that Zlatan couldn’t out-bowl several of his Premier League rivals, or even Michael Buble.

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