Zlatan Ibrahimović retires from football aged 41: A look back at the strikers sensational spell at Ajax

Zlatan Ibrahimović has announced his retirement from football aged 41. The iconic Swedish striker experienced an illustrious career, winning 34 trophies with seven clubs. Zlatan has also won and been nominated for countless personal awards throughout his career. He scored 511 goals for clubs including Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United and both AC and Inter Milan, winning league titles in four countries. 

Often fans forget about the mark that Ibrahimović made on Dutch football. Between 2001 and 2004 the Swede scored 48 goals and provided 17 assists in 110 appearances for Ajax. During his three-year stay in Amsterdam, he helped the club win two Eredivisie titles, one KNVB Cup and a Dutch Super Cup.

Zlatan moved to Ajax from Malmö for €8.7m in July 2001. At the time he was Ajax’s record signing and a lot was expected from a 19-year-old striker. His name had hardly been heard outside of Sweden, but those at Ajax compared him to Marco van Basten given his stature and reputation in his home country. Straight away he was handed the number nine shirt. 

During his first season at the club, he made 33 appearances in all competitions, scoring nine goals. He got off to a relatively good start although several factors limited him from being at his best, including the language barrier, trouble settling into life in Amsterdam and a lack of communication with manager Co Adriaanse.

In November 2001 Adriaanse was sacked and Ronald Koeman replaced him. Ibrahimović became a regular starter under Koeman and Ajax went on to lift the 01/02 Eredivisie title. Zlatan played a part in all three goals in a game against Sparta Rotterdam. The win sealed Ajax’s 28th Eredivisie title. Ibrahimović went on to score the winning goal for Ajax in their 3-2 KNVB Cup final win over Utrecht that season. 

The following season Ibrahimović scored twice in a 2-1 victory over French Champions Lyon in his Champions League debut. He scored five CL goals in total that season before Ajax were knocked out by AC Milan in the quarter-finals. Meanwhile, in the Eredivisie, he found consistent form and Ajax lifted the KNVB Cup. He scored 13 goals in 25 league appearances before his season came to an early end due to injury.

At the age of 21, Zlatan received his first of 11 Ballon d’Or nominations. He finished 20th that year which was a huge achievement for a footballer in the Netherlands who hardly anyone had heard of two years before. The following season Zlatan scored 15 goals and provided eight assists in 31 appearances. Ajax won the 03/04 league title and Ibrahimović exceeded what was expected of him overall.

At the start of the 04/05 campaign, Zlatan scored a superb solo goal in a game against NAC Breda. The commentators compared the goal to one that Diego Maradona or Zinedine Zidane would have scored. The strike turned out to be his last goal for Ajax. 

In August 2004, during an international match against the Netherlands, Ibrahimović injured his Ajax teammate Rafael van der Vaart. The midfielder later accused Ibrahimović of injuring him intentionally. Their relationship had turned frosty prior to that clash. On August 31st 2004, Zlatan left Ajax for Juventus in a move worth €16m. The Swede went on to score 463 more goals throughout his incredible club career. What a journey. What a player.

GBeNeFN Hugo Hargreaves

More European Football News