MUNICH, GERMANY - JULY 26: Zlatan Ibrahimovic of AC Milan celebrates the first goalduring the Audi Cup match between FC Bayern Muenchen and AC Milan at Allianz Arena on July 26, 2011 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images)
As you may have heard, the Champions League drawing has pitted FC Barcelona against AC Milan in group H of this years competition, the first leg will be played on Tuesday night. Thus, two of the competitions most storied sides are set to meet in two exciting clashes the first of which will take place at Camp Nou. However, something overshadows these two historic clashes, a player is now on the mind of both Barcelona and Milan supporters a like, a player who has played for both sides, has come to garnish the limelight of attention in what will surely be exciting matches to witness. That player of course is none other than Zlatan Ibrahimovic who Barcelona shipped out to Milan for 24million Euro's just last year.
Although Zlatan has won the league in every team in which he has played , the Champions League seems to be one of the most illusive trophies for the big swede and it is also a competition in which he has never fared well. Zlatan is considered by many to be a key player in any team he plays in. Having Ibrahimovic on a team almost guarantees any team employing the striker to win the domestic league title. One would think a player who guarantees a team domestic success is an asset to have but in terms of Ibra's Champions League record, he is more burden than guaranteed success.
Ibrahimovic's successful domestic campaigns have always been compared to his sub par Champions League exploits. The swede has done so poorly in Europe's biggest competition that some have dared to classify him as a pure domestic player. A player who can guarantee you domestic titles but is no good if your ambition is to be the best team in Europe. From Juventus Turin, to Inter Milan, to Barcelona, and back to Milan (this time the red half), every team that has held the Swede for periods of time has always won some form of domestic title while being unable to convert domestic success to a continental one. Perhaps the most perplexing series of events in Ibra's transfer history was his transfer from Inter to Barcelona, and from Barcelona to Milan.
During the course of these two years Inter went on to defeat Barcelona, who at the time had just purchased Ibra from them, to become European Champions. Thus is seemed that Ibrahimovic was the burden that had prevented Inter from shining to it's full potential and hampered FC Barcelona's possibilities of repeating their success of 2009. Although FC Barcelona did retain La Liga with Ibra, they saw the Swede as hampering their European campaign and shipped him off to AC Milan in 2010. Ibra had an immediate domestic impact in that he helped Milan finally vanquish his former team Inter Milan, but the Rossoneri never advanced passed the round of 16. Once again did Ibrahimovic disappear when it mattered the most, this time against a Tottenham Hotspurs side that never really had a chance of reaching the final. FC Barcelona sans Ibrahimovic, went on to lift the trophy a fourth time in 2011. Thus this is the history of the recent past of a player like Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
If history is a glimpse into the future and if it indeed does repeat itself, one then will expect Ibrahimovic and AC Milan to falter both at the Camp Nou and the San Siro when the two meet again in this years competition. The simple fact of the matter is Ibra's track record does not have Milan as the favorites to emerge victorious in any encounter. The "Ibra Factor" or flopping on the big stage is something Milan should really be worried about. Milan is currently engaged in rebuilding itself to form a competitive squad with which they can challenge for Europe's most prestigious trophy. But one really has to wonder if Ibra has any place in a squad, whose ambitions are eclipsing his abilities to deliver the kind performances needed to elevate his teammates to that position.
One can surely argue that there are many good players who have never lifted the Champions League, and never will in their careers. But for a player who has often times been considered the best striker in Europe and a Ballon d'or candidate, Ibrahimovic never delivers when it matters most. The fact of the matter is that Ibrahimovics record in Europe speaks for itself, and when it matters he doesn't deliver. No one really knows the causes of why Ibra simply cannot perform on the big stage. But come September 13th the mind of Barcelona fans and Milan fans will be centered on this debate. Blaugrana fans will be hoping Ibra's history holds true and that he flops again in Europe, while Milan fans will hope than Ibra can finally awaken from his slumber and be the striker that can not only guarantee domestic success, but continental superiority as well. One thing is for sure, the pressure is already on Ibrahimovic to prove to "the philosopher" Guardiola, that he was wrong in shipping him out prematurely from Barcelona. If Ibra wants to send Pep the message that he was wrong, then he must give the performance that has long been missing from his previous appearances in Europe. If Zlatan fails to deliver, no only will Blaugrana fans rejoice, but it will reaffirm Guardiola's decision as correct, and only strengthen the negative reputation of Ibra as a Champions League flop. The encounter between the philosopher and Ibrahimovic thus already has a place and time, only the result is to be determined.
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