Strikers are often compartmentalised into two distinct categories: great goalscorers and scorers of great goals.
There are those, however, who disprove such a theory. Thierry Henry is certainly one, as is Wayne Rooney, but it’s the current LA Galaxy forward who possesses perhaps the most impressive personal portfolio of strikes.
Yes, we’re talking about Zlatan Ibrahimović. The Swede turned 37 on October 3rd, but, as he proved during his short sting with Manchester United, with 28 strikes in his first season in England, age is just a number.
However, as he celebrates his birthday – probably by kung-fu kicking a cake or something – Football Whispers takes a look at the ten greatest goals he has ever scored.
Get ready to disagree.
10. Juventus v Roma, 2005
When you think of Ibrahimović scoring a goal, you imagine the overhead kicks, the volleys and the missile free-kicks from improbable range. What you probably don’t think of, however, is him using raw pace to beat a defender.
With this goal, Ibra uses a deadly combination of imagination, power, pace and a clinical finishing touch.
When the ball is played to him, he flicks it over the head of Roma defender Samuel Kuffour, before blitzing past him and leaving him as a wreck on the pitch.
Bearing down on goal, he can either chip the goalkeeper or cut back and curl into the far corner but, instead, launches a beautiful drive into the top corner of the near post.
9. Ajax v Lyon, 2002
Announcing himself on the European stage with a goal befitting of his talents, Ibrahimović prompted the footballing world to sit up and take notice with this outrageous strike on his Champions League debut for Ajax.
After receiving a pass from Jari Litmanen, it looked as though Ibra had run himself into a dead-end. But finding little pockets of space has never been an issue for the Swede and, faced with two defenders, he swivelled in between them before unleashing a rasping drive into the far corner.
It would be the first of many unforgettable goals for him in football’s most prestigious club competition.
8. Inter Milan v Reggina, 2009
The rest of Serie A didn’t have an answer to the Inter Milan of 2008/09. José Mourinho’s side marched dominantly to their 17th Scudetto by ten points, with Ibrahimović in scintillating form throughout.
The Swede scored 25 Serie A goals that season and none were better than this expertly-judged dribble-and-dink against soon-to-be relegated Reggina.
Picking up the ball up 40 yards from the goal, the forward drove inside, beating two defenders before spotting the keeper off his line, and punishing with a delightful lob into the top corner. The vision, the imagination and the execution: it’s Zlatan in a nutshell.
7. AC Milan v Lecce, 2011
Ibrahimović has always had the ability to think fast, but this wonder strike against Lecce shows him at his hyper-functioning best. Latching on to a long ball, the striker outmuscles a defender to create half a yard of space, before having a quick glance to assess the goalkeeper’s position.
Spotting him straying slightly from his goal-line, Ibra springs a surprise volley with his left foot, using the defender as a shield to block the keeper’s vision, which sails gloriously into the top corner.
In that scenario, such a goal was an almost inconceivable outcome – but that’s something he has always specialised in.
6. Sweden v Italy, 2004
Never one to shy away from the big occasion, Ibrahimović certainly delivered for Sweden throughout his career, with 62 goals in 116 caps.
This is one of his earliest – and most important – an 85th-minute equaliser in the group stage, which ultimately helped Sweden top the group and progress to the knockout stages.
While an element of luck was certainly involved in this improvised backheel lob, the audacity and skill required to even make a goal possible is something to marvel at. The fact that Ibrahimović was running away from the goal only added to its implausibility. Even with a defender planted on the line Italy couldn’t stop him from producing one of the moments of the tournament.
5. Paris Saint-Germain v Bastia, 2013
After some dazzling play on the wing from Lucas Moura, the Brazilian’s ricochets off Blaise Matuidi and loops up into the air. With time seemingly standing still, Ibrahimović watches the ball like a hawk, pinning his back to the defender before swinging an educated leg and finding the top corner.
4. Sweden v France, 2012
Here, the striker plucked the Euro 2012 Goal of the Tournament out of the sky with unerring precision. Training his eyes on Sebastian Larsson’s clipped cross, Ibrahimović connected with a devastating volley, flashing the ball past a helpless Hugo Lloris.
Once again, it was a spectacular piece of skill that showcased his ability to deliver when it really mattered. Sweden were eliminated at the group stage disappointingly, but their talismanic captain in attack was named in the Team of the Tournament.
3. Paris Saint-Germain v Anderlecht, 2013
Poor old Anderlecht, they never stood a chance. Ibrahimović netted 41 times in 46 games for PSG during the 2013/14 campaign, but none were sweeter than this volley, so ferociously spanked it nearly ripped the net off.
Ibrahimović has earned himself such a reputation for sublime flicks and tricks that it’s easy to neglect just how magnificently he can strike a football.
This was the hat-trick clincher in a stunning four-goal haul as PSG mercilessly battered the Belgians to a pulp. When a cross is half-cleared by the Anderlecht defence, Ibrahimović appears from behind the referee to unleash a venomous 25-yard heatseeker. In terms of sheer power and precision, it was a masterpiece.
2. Ajax v NAC Breda, 2004
Perhaps the romantics won’t be having this. For some, this defining goal will never be usurped in the pantheon of great Zlatan strikes. However, after much deliberation, we’ve had to place it in a very, very close second.
The context of this goal is interesting. Ibra, having made himself a star at Ajax, was Juve-bound. But he was not on speaking terms with Amsterdam darling Rafael van der Vaart who claimed Ibrahimović had deliberately injured him in training.
When Zlatan took the field against NAC Breda, he was heckled and whistled at by his own supporters. He sure found a convincing way to shut them up. Turning away from a defender, the striker shimmied, dummied and feigned his way past Breda’s entire defence, leaving them in a trance as he danced his way through.
Reaching the goalkeeper he performed one final drag-back and poked the ball home. As you can hear in the video, the fans were well and truly on his side when the ball hit the back of the net.
1. Sweden vs England, 2012
It was always going to be between this and the Breda goal, but this ludicrous overhead kick really defied logic when it comes to goalscoring. Yes, Joe Hart made a meal of it and, yes, he was way off his line. But that barely matters.
With the ball looping in the air 30 yards out, nobody foresaw what happened next. Producing the most audacious moment of his career, Ibra executed an overhead kick from a 45-degree angle, lifting it above a backtracking Hart and two England defenders.
The Sweden manager, Erik Hamrén, said it was like watching a video game, but few could even dream of scoring a goal like that on FIFA.
Some commentators whipped themselves into a frenzy (see Stan Collymore in the video below, for example). Some said it was the greatest goal ever seen. That’s not true but, for this writer, it remains the greatest goal Ibrahimović ever scored.