Time for Ibrahimovic to step up for AC Milan

By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - In 2009, then Inter Milan manager Jose Mourinho proclaimed Zlatan Ibrahimovic to be the best player in the world.

Of course, Mourinho was managing the Swede at the time and the comment was treated more like a motivational ploy than an actual assessment of his talent.

To be fair, Ibrahimovic is one of the most physically gifted strikers in the world, but he also may be a bit delusional.

"I'm the best player in the world. I really feel that way," Ibrahimovic told Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport recently. "You're finished if you don't believe in yourself. The fact that I've never won the FIFA Player of the Year award or the Ballon d'Or doesn't mean that I can't be the best player."

Self-belief is necessary for any athlete competing on the top level. But the fact that he has never won either the FIFA Player of the Year or the Ballon d'Or isn't what discounts him from being recognized as the world's best player.

It is the fact that he has done nothing to earn such a lofty title.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has put himself and his team in a bad spot by reacting poorly to a tough situation.
Since the start of the 2006-07 season, Ibrahimovic has scored 106 goals for Inter Milan, Barcelona and AC Milan combined. That kind of production is hard to find anywhere in the world, but in order to be considered the best, you have to produce in the biggest moments, and that is where Ibrahimovic comes up short.

Take this season as a perfect example.

AC Milan currently leads Serie A by five points with nine games to play, and Ibrahimovic has played a key role in leading the team to the top of the league with 14 goals.

However, he came up incredibly small in Milan's Champions League round of 16 exit at the hands of Tottenham as the favored Rossoneri failed to score a single goal over two legs in a 1-0 aggregate defeat.

He is certainly not the only player on the field for Milan who should score goals, especially with Brazilian duo Robinho and Pato around.

But while those two worked hard to create chances, Ibrahimovic drifted in and out of the game, especially in the second leg, and was generally a non-factor.

And then came this past Sunday's 1-1 draw with last-place Bari.

Milan had watched title-chasing Inter settle for a 1-1 draw with Brescia on Friday, giving the club a chance to extend its lead at the top of the table to seven points.

Milan was facing a Bari side that had won just three games all season, and they were doing so at home, so three points was pretty much in the bag, right?

Not exactly.

Milan conceded a goal late in the first half and was growing increasingly frustrated as the game went on with the fact that they couldn't find the equalizer despite getting the better of the play.

In a situation like this, Barcelona's Lionel Messi, who is rightfully regarded as the world's best player, would probably dribble past a few defenders and score a goal, or at least set one up.

Instead, Ibrahimovic showed his frustration by getting sent off in the 73rd minute for punching Bari's Marco Rossi after he cleared a cross intended for the Swede.

Ibrahimovic put his team in a terrible position over the final 15 minutes, but luckily for him, Antonio Cassano was able to score in the 82nd minute to level the match, saving Ibrahimovic from even more criticism.

However, the selfish act has now cost him a three-game suspension, which includes a showdown with Inter on April 3.

Milan is expected to appeal the ruling, but Ibrahimovic has put himself and his team in a bad spot by reacting poorly to a tough situation.

The last Scudetto won by AC Milan came during the 2003-04 season, while Rossoneri supporters have had to watch as Inter has claimed the last five.

This is the best chance that Milan has had to snap its title drought, and it will need all the help it can get from its leading scorer.

Whenever Ibrahimovic returns from his suspension, the club will be looking to him to provide the big goals down the stretch of a title run.

And even if he does come through and leads Milan to the title, he still won't be considered the best player in the world.

But at least it will be a step in the right direction.

Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com.

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