Zlatan Ibrahimovic has established himself as one of the top European strikers in the last three decades. The towering forward has won silverware with virtually every club he played for in Holland, Italy, France Spain and England. Valhmor Camilleri spoke with Sweden’s all-time leading scorer on his career achievements and his plans for the future…

Goals and trophies have been an integral part of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s career since he put his football shoes on for the first time with his hometown club Malmo 20 years ago.

A powerful technical-gifted striker with an eye for goal, the 37-year-old has emerged as one of the superstars of the modern game. In fact, he is currently the third most decorated player in world football, having won 31 trophies.

Ibrahimovic put his name on the football map at Ajax where he helped the Dutch giants to the league title and his scoring prowess at such a young age inevitably drew the attention of some of Europe’s best clubs and eventually moved to Juventus.

This season, Ajax have set European football alight after their storming run in the UEFA Champions League where they reached the semi-finals before being agonisingly ousted by Tottenham after conceding a last-gasp goal in Amsterdam.

Ibrahimovic said that he was not surprised with Ajax’s run as it was only a matter of time for the Amsterdam club to leave their mark on the big stage after facing Ibrahimovic’s Man. United in the Europa League final two seasons ago.

“To be honest I was not surprised with their run to the semi-finals of the Champions League,” Sweden’s all-time leading scorer with 62 goals told The Sunday Times of Malta.

“Two years ago, I played against them in the Europa League final and had already reached a very good level there. They continued to develop in the last two years and

this year I felt that they were really unlucky not to make it to the Champions League final.

“Actually, I felt a bit sorry for them as I think they would have deserved to face Liverpool. Had they made the Madrid showdown they would have proved to be tougher opponents for Liverpool than Tottenham were. It took them 15 years of development to reach such heights and I felt they deserved more.”

Moving to Italy was in Ibrahimovic’s words the best decision he ever made in his career.

It was in the Serie A that the six-foot-five striker developed all his football potential. He won two Serie A titles with Juventus, which were later revoked, three Scudetti with Inter and another league championship with Milan, apart from winning the top scorer award twice.

“When I went to Italy, I still had to learn a lot of things,” Ibrahimovic said.

“I enjoyed my time with Juventus but the best spell for me was when I move to Inter and then with Milan.

“There, I think you saw the best Ibrahimovic.

“PSG have now bought a lot of players and have a big project but in Europe it takes time to gain the necessary experience and build a winning team.”

“For me, Italy will always be my second home. I will never forget what Italy did to my football career. I played with the three biggest clubs in Italy and it’s thanks to them that I became the player I am today.

“Now it’s difficult for me to go back as a player but maybe in the future I could go back in a different role… we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Barcelona were the only club at which Ibrahimovic struggled to flourish as a difficult relationship with coach Pep Guardiola meant that he ended up being sold by the Blaugrana.

“I think when something is not clicking you have to look for a new adventure,” Ibrahimovic said on his time at Barcelona.

“Unfortunately, Guardiola didn’t like something about me, which until this day I still don’t know, and I just made it easier for him by moving to another club.

“But for me, when you are a man you try and resolve the problems but he didn’t try so I just fixed the situation for him.”

At Paris St Germain, Ibrahimovic managed to showcase all his qualities as he turned the French club into a winning machine, helping the capital club to 13 trophies, including four successive league titles.

Since his departure from France, Paris St Germain have struggled to transfer their domestic dominance into European success despite the capture of Neymar to a world record fee two years ago.

This season, they were surprisingly ousted by Manchester United following a stunning 3-1 defeat in Paris after they had won the first leg at Old Trafford.

Ibrahimovic said that PSG just need time to develop and gain the experience to leave a mark in UEFA club competitions.

“I think it takes a few years for a team to go to Europe and win,” Ibrahimovic, who set an enviable record of winning eight straight league titles in his career.

“Chelsea are a good example. When Abramovich took over the club it took him a lot of years to be successful in Europe.

“PSG have now bought a lot of players and have a big project but in Europe it takes time to gain the necessary experience and build a winning team.”

One of Ibrahimovic’s biggest challenges in his career was when he moved to England and joined Manchester United. He admits that during his time at Old Trafford he was driven by the thought of silencing his critics who said that he couldn’t succeed in England.

“There were many who questioned whether I could win trophies in England, but I had a fantastic time at Manchester United,” Ibrahimovic said.

“It was a great experience and I ended up winning three trophies, including first Europa League for the club. And that showed that Ibra could also be successful in England.”

A knee injury ended his time at United and since his departure the Red Devils have struggled to challenge for the main honours in England. This season they have missed out on a place in the Champions League.

“I think the main problem at Manchester United is that they failed to keep bringing in quality players on a consistent basis to compliment the top players at the club,” the Swedish forward said.

“Unfortunately, Guardiola didn’t like something about me, which until this day I still don’t know, and I just made it easier for him by moving to another club.

“When Mourinho came in he signed three excellent players and we ended up winning three trophies but the club didn’t continue their squad investment in the last couple of years.

“United failed to keep growing in terms of squad investment and the other teams got stronger and stronger and they couldn’t keep up with them.

“Now there is talk that they want to bring in some young blood and I think it’s good but they also need to bring in experienced quality players to ensure they can close the gap with the top teams in England.”

Today, Ibrahimovic is one of the shining stars at LA Galaxy in the American Major League Soccer.

The prolific Swedish striker says that playing in the MLS is a great challenge for him.

“I’m enjoying my time at LA Galaxy,” Ibrahimovic said.

“I have had a good time since I got back from my injury and had no complications, which is the most important thing as I’m enjoying doing what I love most.

“I think the MLS is developing well, even if it’s not on the same level of European football. It will take time to reach that level but slowly it will get there. It’s not easy to play in the MLS and it’s a challenge that I enjoy.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a shareholder at Malta-based company Bethard Group.Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a shareholder at Malta-based company Bethard Group.

“Obviously to come here in America you have to show that you are capable of maintaining your level of performance. I’m determined to get results for the team and help the MLS to become globally known and having stars like Wayne Rooney and Bastian Schweinsteiger and myself it helps.”

Malta connection

Not many might know but Ibrahimovic has a strong connection with Malta as he is one of the shareholders of betting company Bethard Group.

“I am one of the shareholders at Bethard Group,” Ibrahimovic said.

“At the moment, I’m focused on playing football, but I am enthusiastic with my association with Bethard Group.

“I’m trying to use all my connections to try and help them to grow on the international market and to get bigger so it’s a challenge that I relish.”

Ibrahimovic may still be putting on his football shoes but asked whether he would love to go into football management or administration, he said: “At the moment, my focus is to continue playing football and enjoy my time but once I retire there will be many options to what I can do.

“I had already a lot of offers to go into management, but this is not the right time for that.

“But who knows in the future I might consider to go into coaching or in any other capacity as football will always remain important for me.”

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