Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Why Mourinho always masters Ibrahimovic

His all-round attacking contribution in more than 100 UEFA Champions League appearances has earned Zlatan Ibrahimovic the reputation of being one of the world’s top strikers.

He scores at an impressive rate of three goals every seven games in the world’s toughest club competition, creates plenty of chances, and fires in shots and headers from all angles - except when his opponents are coached by his favourite manager in football, Jose Mourinho.

Ibrahimovic played three seasons for Inter, the last of which was under Mourinho’s management. Since leaving in 2009 he has played against Mourinho’s teams at Inter, Real Madrid and Chelsea seven times, for Milan, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain. He has not scored a goal in those games - but it is much worse than that.

Ibrahimovic’s effectiveness in terms of shots and assists is so poor that he has been taken off three times – once with an injury, twice because he was contributing so little. When Mourinho’s Real Madrid beat Milan in October 2010, he was voted the worst performer on the pitch by Goal’s readers.

How come? There is a clue in Ibrahimovic’s 2013 book, I Am Zlatan. “I’ve never met a manager with that much knowledge about the opposing sides. It was everything, right down to the third-choice goalkeeper’s shoe size.”

“Mourinho clearly has the edge over him, but it’s not just on the field,” Emile Heskey, the former Liverpool and England striker, tells Goal.
“What Mourinho learned as coach at Inter will make a big difference. In that season he will have looked at everything there is to know about Zlatan, not just how he plays and what he does on the pitch, but mentally too – what gets under his skin, what upsets him. He will have a very good understanding of what Zlatan is all about and that is a big advantage.”

Mourinho, combining his own knowledge of managing Ibrahimovic with the input of his team of scouts and analysts, has done a stunning job of working out how to stop the Swede. He has been able to take him on with hugely experienced central defenders and the results are there for all to see.

At Inter, the men who shackled Ibrahimovic were Lucio and Walter Samuel. At Real, Mourinho turned to Portuguese pair Ricardo Carvalho and Pepe as well as Sergio Ramos. The central defensive duties at Chelsea have been carried out by David Luiz, John Terry and Gary Cahill. Every one of those eight defenders has a Champions League winner’s medal.

“Look at the quality of those defenders,” said Heskey. “If you look back and maybe think about naming a team of the decade, pretty well all of them will be in people’s minds. There’s so much experience among that group. They are all world class.

“So is Zlatan, so those statistics show just how good Mourinho is at coming up with a plan. In my view, Zlatan is the best traditional-style centre forward around. He scores, he makes goals, he has a great touch, he’s powerful. He’s totally different to Sergio Aguero but, of his type, there’s no one better.
“I don’t buy in to the view that he doesn’t play well in the big games. You can argue that every international is a big game and look at his scoring record for Sweden [51 goals in 101 games]. He plays plenty of big games and he scores plenty of goals.”

When Zlatan was at Inter, Mourinho built a relationship with his star forward even before they met, in a series of text messages during the Euro 2008 tournament. “That guy is special,” Ibrahimovic said in his book. “He would become a guy I was basically willing to die for. No matter how happy I was going to Barcelona, I was sad to leave Mourinho.”

Last season, when Chelsea beat PSG on away goals in the quarter-finals, Ibrahimovic missed the second leg with an injury. He watched at Stamford Bridge and later interrupted a television interview to wish Mourinho good luck. The manager gave him a man-hug in response.

A few weeks before that encounter, Mourinho said: “I don't understand when people say he [Ibrahimovic] is a difficult guy to work with or a difficult personality. When you have somebody that is a winner and wants to win all the time, I think he is very, very easy. I only coached him for a year but it was a good year, a good experience and I rate him as one of the best players I have ever coached.”

Will Ibrahimovic score at last in Wednesday’s second leg? “That run against Mourinho will probably be playing on his mind,” said Heskey. “His teammates will be thinking ‘Does he have the character to overcome this record?’ And Chelsea’s defenders will be determined to keep it so. I just can’t see Chelsea losing.”

No comments:

Post a Comment