Massimo Moratti once said selling Zlatan Ibrahimović to FC Barcelona in 2009 was the best piece of business he had done, but with the forward having made a shining start to life with city rivals AC Milan this season, FC Internazionale Milano's president may regret letting him go.
Signed on loan from Barcelona last summer, the 29-year-old Swedish international has led Inter's arch-rivals Milan to the Serie A summit as well as the UEFA Champions League knockout stage.
The striker has finished top of the table in each of his last seven seasons – with AFC Ajax, Juventus, Inter and Barcelona – and is now battling to make it eight No1s in a row with Massimiliano Allegri's side. However, he might arguably sacrifice that success to win the UEFA Champions League, given he is oddly light on European trophies – his only silverware being the 2009 UEFA Super Cup won with Barcelona.
For some, that is proof of his footballing Achilles heel. While Ibrahimović has scored 12 goals in 19 league games this term, his critics argue he is much better in domestic football than he has ever been in Europe, even though he registered four times for Milan in the UEFA Champions League group stage.
It is true that Barcelona are the only team he has scored for in the knockout phase, yet Ibrahimović is unconcerned. "When they don't know how to complain about me they come out with this thing that I don't score in Europe," said the former Malmö FF prodigy. "But I don't even listen, and if I do listen, it only gives me extra motivation to do better. I'm like that."
Milan face Tottenham Hotspur FC in the round of 16, kicking off in Italy on 15 February, and Ibrahimović will know he has a great opportunity to silence his detractors. According to Rossoneri coach Allegri, though, the wonderful goal he scored against US Lecce two weekends ago should be evidence enough.
"Ibra is probably having the best season of his career. In the past he did well but could have done even better, but now he understands he has to play with, and for, the team and that he is not the only one on the pitch. He's doing wonderful things, yet he doesn't make his brilliance a burden for his team-mates."
Instead of a starting XI, Allegri has been selecting "Ibrahimović plus ten", and the coach recognises that if his charges are to advance in Europe he needs the forward – on target again in Sunday's 2-0 home win against AC Cesena – at the peak of his powers. Helping to make Milan European champions for an eighth time would certainly give Ibrahimović the ultimate footballing upgrade: from club class to world class.
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