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The Zlatan Effect – What next for PSG?

Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The name, in itself, is considered to be legendary. Over the years of his playing career, the towering Swede has made a name for himself in various countries – Sweden, Italy, France and finally, is attempting to prove himself in the English top flight with a rejuvenated United under his one of his favorite managers, Jose Mourinho. For the majority of his playing career, he has dominated newspaper headlines and thousands have flocked to see him play, the former being due to his “antics” off the pitch, and the latter being due to his brilliant performances on the pitch. Moments like the bicycle kick against Joe Hart, the creative in-air backheels, powerful free kicks, and inclusions in legendary teams like AC, Inter and Juventus have etched his name into footballing history.

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He is a player of exceptional calibre, and due to this, millions have flocked to see him play on a football pitch. Boasting an impressive number of title wins with different teams in three different countries, he has a proven track record for both club and country, winning the golden boot during many of his team’s campaigns, and recently retiring from international duty as Sweden’s all time highest goalscorer. His feats on the pitch speak wonders about his footballing ability, and rightly so, as he is a unique type of a player, effortlessly blending clinical goalscoring abilities, towering physique and great vision and passing ability to essentially create an ambidextrous one man team, able to run the offense in any way that pleases him. He is, essentially, the textbook definition of a complete striker. His recruitment by a financially-bolstered Paris St–Germain in 2012 raised a few eyebrows, but after a four-year stay at the club, he has gifted the Ligue 1 with a new level of recognition and aided PSG in their long term project of building up their team

  1. Goals, Assists, Leadership.

Zlatan was a dominant striker during his stay at Ligue 1, and has always been the focal point for the attack of PSG. Supplemented with pace from the wings, Ibrahimovic was always free to pull the strings in the middle, supported with the likes of creative midfielders such as Verratti, Pastore and Motta. It was a team sheet that could strike fear in the hearts of the opposition. Zlatan had his fair share of goals, consistently scoring between 30-50 goals each season during his time at PSG. His performances and statistics were even comparable to the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Despite the fact that some may say that the French League is a “cakewalk” compared to the other leagues in the world, one has to admire his dedication towards his training regimes and the team. As an athlete, he always strived to win, and his trophy cabinet from his stay at Paris is dedicated to that mentality. Ibrahimovic also possesses a great understanding of attacking play, and in addition to his prolific goalscoring nature, he also possesses a brilliant eye for his teammates. This is used in tandem with his tendency to drop deep during his time at PSG, as it allowed him more space and time on the ball to dribble with it. More often than not, he played long balls to his teammates, flicked it on for them to continue the play, or chipped it through the last line of defence, essentially fulfilling the role of two players – he created the chances, and took them very well too.

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Lastly, Ibrahimovic possessed something that could never be measured by the likes of statistics- leadership. When the team was stagnating he took it upon himself to correct them and guide them to a victory. His willingness to step up to the plate, combined with the mature ideologies of Thiago Motta and Thiago Silva allowed Laurent Blanc to play a side which had the experienced and the youth playing side-by-side, which allowed both sets of players to learn something new every day. Their winning mentality and calming effect that they had on their teammates essentially made up most of the recipe for the brilliant success of PSG over the past few years. The entire team looked up to Ibrahimovic, and his all-roundedness in terms of offensive play is emulated by the likes of Lucas Moura, Cavani and Lavezzi.

  1. Ligue 1 – A Widespread Impact

The capture of Zlatan by PSG was a signal, not only to the rest of the teams in the league, but the rest of the world. Finally, the Parisiens had an idol to look up to. By that point of time, Zlatan was well known around the world, having recently played for Barcelona and finishing his AC Milan career with the golden boot. Sales of shirts and attendances in stadium skyrocketed, with millions looking to watch the legendary figure play. TV views slowly began to rise, catalyzed by the brilliant form of PSG. This transfer marked a period of dominance over the Ligue 1 for the next four years. In a way, PSG as a team were complete. Just look at their squad.

Thiago Silva, a veteran defender, signed in the same year, had a brilliant first season in the club, being lauded as “the best defender” in the world by the media from different countries all around the world, from France to Spain. He was a rock at the back, and never let anything pass through him, from opposition ranging from Lorient to Barcelona. Blaise Matuidi also enjoyed a great season, with the energetic midfielder playing brilliantly in the middle of the park. He was the link between the defense and attack, and the fluid play from PSG originated from his exploits. Ibrahimovic completed the spine of the team. Silva, Matuidi, Zlatan. A spine around which any team can be built. Players in their prime, guaranteeing a lot for the next few years. Apart from being a brilliant brand name and deal, it was strategic thinking from the board.

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Zlatan also offered Champions League football experience to a PSG side who were looking to surpass their local achievements. Being a veteran of the European game, he was the best choice to play upfront. He allowed the team to reshape based on the changes in playing style. The manager didn’t have to worry about him, as he was at his home turf. An anchor for the rest of the team, keeping them in one place during a time of uncertainty and changing conditions. A lifejacket, keeping them afloat even when the conditions suggested otherwise.

  1. What Now?

This summer, Zlatan played out his contract and joined on a free at Manchester United, leaving the Parisiens with a gaping hole to fill up top. Unfortunately, I don’t think that they’ll ever be able to find someone that has that unique ability that Zlatan had. However, his departure was not really a bad omen. Yes, he was their tool for long-term change, but now, he’s aging and needs a chance to prove himself properly before he pulls the curtains on his illustrious career. Nobody really knew if he could provide the same levels of performance for the next season. PSG attempted to fill in the gap left by him by snapping up a want-away Angel Di Maria, but in my opinion, nobody can replace Zlatan. He leaves his own unique marks on each game he plays, and it’s very hard to find someone who has that effect on and off the pitch. Part time entertainer, attention seeker, and full time baller. Nobody comes close to that.

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Can Emery bring the best out of this emerging talent? (image from Tumblr)

At this point of time, the Parisiens have to put their faith in Edinson Cavani and a young Jean-Kévin Augustin to provide them with goals. The young French striker has impressed during the Under – 19 Euros, and it’s time to see if this form can be carried over domestically. Zlatan has left his mark on PSG, helping them tweak and bolster their squad while he carries the brunt of their mistakes. He’s given large amounts of publicité to the French Ligue. It’s time for PSG to make the best out of their chance. It’s time to inscribe his name in the book of French Legends.

Written by Chaitanya Jadhav  (@IndiciumBlog)

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