AC Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic turns 40 today, making him only the 22nd player in Serie A history to be active beyond his 40th birthday. Of the other 21, only thirteen were outfield players. Ibrahimovic remains at a higher level than these players for a number of reasons.
Throughout his illustrious career, Swedish great Ibrahimovic has never been far away from the headlines, as he has journeyed across the globe, leaving indelible marks of his greatness everywhere he goes.
In January 2020, the striker returned to the Italian Serie A after seven and a half years away from the league to an AC Milan side that was, quite frankly, underwhelming. Upon his arrival, the club was in 11th place and had little to look forward to. Ibrahimovic is credited with having transformed the mentality at the club with his infectious self-belief, leading them to sixth place in the 2019/20 season and a title charge that ended in 2nd place in the 2020/21 season.
In terms of numbers, Ibrahimovic is up there with the greatest strikers of all time, having scored 565 goals in 954 appearances for club and country. He also delivered a further 216 assists, taking his total goal contributions to 781. Ibrahimovic contributes to 0.82 goals per match he plays in. He is the third highest-scoring active player at present, behind only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Bosnian-born Swede is Sweden’s record goalscorer with 62 goals and held the scoring record at Paris Saint Germain until Edinson Cavani eclipsed his record in his final season at the club.
While many of his greatest critics and opponents on the pitch have spoken against his abrasive nature and arrogance, his teammates have spoken glowingly about him over the years. AC Milan striker Ante Rebic said, “We have one leader on the bench, the coach, and another on the pitch, Zlatan.”
While not at his peak physical condition, 40 year old Ibrahimovic has played 38 matches for AC Milan since his return to the club, scoring a remarkable 26 goals. For someone who moved back to Europe at 38, it was expected that he would play a much lesser role than he currently does, but he has proven to be a talisman in the present AC Milan setup.
While his status as a national hero and legend is intact, it is also remarkable that the striker was recalled to the Sweden national team setup after a five-year hiatus ahead of Euro 2020, but injury prevented him from participating in the tournament over the summer.
Despite being out with an Achilles injury at present, the striker still manages to keep himself in the best condition as he hopes to score his first FIFA World Cup goal in Qatar in 2022 aged 41. Ibrahimovic was quoted some days ago as saying “My head is fine, but my body is getting old, it doesn’t always keep up with it [the head], and it’s a problem. This year I have to listen to my body, every little signal it sends me.”
Ibrahimovic’s advancing age means that one of the greatest strikers of his generation would soon hang his boots for good, and we must cherish every moment of his on the pitch.
Seven countries, nine clubs, 22 years and 500-odd goals later, the legend of Zlatan Ibrahimovic continues to wax stronger even at 40 years of age; he just keeps going.