A World Cup without Zlatan isn’t a World Cup.
So, with the World Cup less than a week away, here’s our Zlatan Ibrahimovic offering to ensure the tournament starts smoothly.
On 22 August 2004 Ibrahimovic bobbed, ducked and weaved his way through six NAC Breda players, beating some defenders more than once, to score the best goal of his career.
Sure, the bicycle kick against England was impressive, but it was into an open goal and we’re still convinced Ryan Shawcross let it in for the good of football.
But Zlatan’s strike against NAC was the work of a higher power. If you could bottle Ibrahimovic into one 11-second clip it would be that goal.
At the start he shows immense strength to hold off one marker and then go through a huge tackle as if the defender’s legs were made of wet cardboard.
From then on in it was all composure and flair. Pure Ibrakadabra.
Zlatan had already scored one goal and would also provide four assists in a 6-2 win. It was a coming of age performance from the 22-year-old.
However we’re not here to tell that story. It’s been told a thousand times. We’re here to tell a lesser discussed part of that stunning chapter of Ibrahimovic’s stellar career.
The fact Zlatan was widely whistled and booed by Ajax supporters in what turned out to he his last game for the club.
The reason? It was all down to Rafael van der Vaart.
Four days before Zlatan’s NEC miracle, Sweden hosted the Netherlands in an international friendly.
The game brought Zlatan face-to-face with many of his club team-mate, including Ajax’s captain Van der Vaart.
Never one to shy away from confrontation, it took Zlatan all of four minutes to put any fears of taking it easy on his club team-mates to bed.
Van der Vaart attempted to tackle Zlatan on the edge of the box but was met with the Swede’s studs. Ibrahimovic will say he was protecting the ball, Van der Vaart will say it was a spiteful challenge.
Van der Vaart was forced off the pitch, replaced by Wesley Sneijder who scored within a minute of coming on.
Was it an accident? Was it deliberate? Ajax fans were left in little doubt.
They overwhelmingly sided with Van der Vaart, the young mercurial captain who’d come through the famed Ajax youth system and was forced to watch on from the sidelines with injury.
Zlatan was widely booed and whistled upon entering the pitch against NEC, although no one was complaining by the end of the game.
Ronald Koeman was left with a conundrum. Side with his playmaker or his number nine?
Nine days later the decision was taken out of his hands.
Juventus signed Ibrahimovic for €16million on transfer deadline day, announcing his arrival alongside Fabio Cannavaro, who’d moved from Inter Milan.
He hasn’t done too badly since.