x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Ibrahimovic is a serial winner

It is a remarkable statistic: last Saturday at Roma, Zlatan Ibrahimovic became a league champion for the eighth successive year. Serial winners like that are rare in the top leagues of Europe.

It is a remarkable statistic: last Saturday at Roma, Zlatan Ibrahimovic became a league champion for the eighth successive year. Serial winners like that are rare in the top leagues of Europe.

Lyon in France spent seven seasons, in the past decade, renewing themselves as domestic champions, which meant their stalwarts, such as the Brazilian Juninho Pernambucano, kept picking up medals. Ibrahimovic can now trump the likes of him.

And the Swede belongs to an era where few players stay in one place for too long. This latest championship is his first with AC Milan, the fifth different club he has helped power to the top of the table.

Ibrahimovic started his uninterrupted run of domestic dominance in his final season with Ajax in Holland, whom he had joined at the age of 19. He won two Eredivisie crowns in three years there - so that's nine titles in the last 10 campaigns - and, after his €19 million (Dh99m) transfer to Juventus, would finish on the Italian winners' podium in 2005 and 2006.

Juve were later stripped of these titles because of the calciopoli investigation, in which senior Juventus directors were found to have influenced match officials. Ibrahimovic points out that this was hardly the players' fault, and continues to regard himself as owner of those titles.

With Juve additionally penalised with demotion to Serie B, Ibrahimovic moved to Inter Milan. By the time he left, after his third term there, he was Serie A's leading scorer and had a further trio of winner's medals.

At Barcelona, who made him the second most expensive footballer in history, he won the Spanish league last May.

Milan meanwhile had not celebrated a scudetto since Ibrahimovic was collecting his last Dutch title, in 2004.

No wonder they were keen to recruit this lucky charm at the end of last summer, when Barcelona had become keen to off-load their pricey striker.

Negotiations at Camp Nou lasted several hours, as Barca executives sought to reduce their losses on the transfer fee - they had paid Inter over €60m 12 months earlier, and would sell for less than half that.

Ibrahimovic himself felt angry at his rejection by Pep Guardiola, the Barca head coach. At one point in the talks, as a witness later told, he said: "I'm not signing."

He then turned to Barcelona representatives and apparently said: "Tell Guardiola, next time I see him, I'm going to knock him out." It is believed he meant that he would eliminate a Guardiola team in some future European tie. Ibrahimovic then signed his Milan contract.

His date against Barcelona in Europe, in Milan colours, has yet to happen. Milan flopped in the Champions League, a competition where Ibrahimovic's record is as desolate as his domestic career is blessed. And that evidently agitates him.

As Arrigo Sacchi, the head coach of Milan in the late 1980s and early 1990s, said: "I've never seen Ibra play like he did this season. The snub from Guardiola took some pride from him but he has responded with determination and that gave courage to Milan's fans and his colleagues."

Ibrahimovic's goals galvanised Milan in the first half of the campaign and so did his many assists - 11 so far - and even when you take into account a spring slump - he has missed five of the last seven matches through suspension, and scored only once from open play since January - the stamp of Ibrahimovic on Milan's 18th league title is firm.

He has scored or provided the final pass for 40 per cent of their Serie A goals, and been responsible either for netting or setting up strikes that gained wins or draws in 21 matches.

No wonder milanisti breathed a sigh of relief when Ibrahimovic said yesterday: "Of course I'm staying for next season." The smelters can start on his next gold medal now.