Football - Goal machine Ibrahimovic brings magic touch to Ligue 1

French soccer braced itself for a lively domestic season when Zlatan Ibrahimovic joined Paris St Germain last year and the much-travelled Sweden striker did not disappoint.

Reuters

"It's true I don't know that much about Ligue 1 but Ligue 1 knows who I am," said Ibrahimovic when he arrived in a league that had not witnessed such a phenomenon in years.

The Bosnian-born Ibrahimovic quickly became a hit, with some French media using 'Zlatan' as a verb meaning 'crucify' which is what he did to bamboozled defences throughout the campaign.

In a vintage season that saw PSG clinch the title on Sunday, he has scored 27 league goals, more than any Ligue 1 striker since Frenchman Jean-Pierre Papin in the 1991-92 campaign.

Papin was also the last man to reach the 30-goal barrier in 1990 and Ibrahimovic has two games left to try to do that.

Only Argentine Carlos Bianchi has scored more league goals than Papin in a season for PSG, with 37 in the 1977-78 season.

Ibrahimovic's deft touch helped him create goals too, and he had six assists in the league this term.

The former Juventus, Barcelona and AC Milan forward often had opponents begging for his shirt at the end of games.

IBRA'S JOURNEY

Ibrahimovic's journey from Malmo, where he was born and the club he joined at the start of his career, has been a long one.

"He was good but not incredible," Ola Gallstad, his coach at Malmo's youth team, told French paper le Journal du Dimanche.

"Then, at 16, he grew 10 centimetres, he became a man. He was more focused than the others on his desire to become the best player in the world."

An outspoken character, Ibrahimovic also has a taste for drama, showing his dark side at times.

He collected nine yellow cards this season, more than any other PSG player except midfielder Marco Verratti.

The Swede was also sent off for a kung fu-style challenge against St Etienne keeper Stephane Ruffier last November.

Having been accused of stamping on Olympique Lyon defender Dejan Lovren's head, he was eventually cleared by the French League's disciplinary commission.

Ibrahimovic can often be seen hushing referees and angrily remonstrating with team mates, who nevertheless hold him in high esteem as they know how important he is to their success.

"We find some peace thanks to him," said midfielder Clement Chantome, glad that the Swede is the centre of attention. "It is normal that people talk a lot about him. He is a great player."

DELIGHTFUL DOUBLE

Ibrahimovic scored a delightful double in a 2-2 draw at arch rivals Olympique Marseille last October. The first goal was a jaw-dropping backheel volley, the second a 30 metre free kick.

At that time, Papin, whose name was also turned into a noun with the word "papinade" describing his trademark volley, told reporters he expected the Swede to beat his 30-goal record.

"The guy has impressed me," said the former AC Milan and Bayern Munich striker. "I don't envy him because I had other qualities. But he's strong, powerful and it's rare for this kind of player to be so comfortable in front of the goal."

"This is what I like in him, this combination of strength and finesse," he added, warning the other Ligue 1 teams that they would face the kind of player they were not used to.

"Who can compete with him in France? Nobody. He's way above all the others. It's been a long time since we had a striker of this level in France."

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