ROME - AC Milan's Champions League exit thrust the spotlight on striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic's dual on-field personality as he once again failed to reproduce his dazzling domestic form in a big European game.
After the Serie A leaders lost their last-16 tie 1-0 on aggregate to Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday, Italian media grappled with the mystery of his Jekyll and Hyde performances, with state TV channel Rai marking him four-and-a-half out of 10.
Leading newspaper Corriere della Sera described him as "gone missing" after a largely anonymous showing at White Hart Lane as the Swede continued his track record of under-performance having scored just three goals in 22 Champions League knockout matches.
His struggle to find the net contrasts with his prolific scoring rates on his way to league titles in each of the past seven years with Ajax, Juventus (the club were later stripped of two), Inter Milan and Barcelona. He is on track for another as Milan are five points clear in Italy.
"I'm happy with my contribution," said Ibrahimovic, neatly sidestepping the post-match question. "Everyone played well and we tried everything but the ball just wouldn't go in."
Despite his satisfaction, the fact was that after an early free kick was pushed aside by Spurs goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes, Milan's number 11 was then largely outmuscled by the Londoners' defence on Wednesday.
At one point in the second half when a move broke down, he betrayed his frustration by joining his hands, looking skywards and shouting the words "per favore" (please).
Milan, whose exit came after losing 1-0 at home and failing to make the most of their better chances in the return leg, were determined to take the positives from the fact they could now concentrate on winning a first Serie A title in seven years.
"We just needed the goal but it's not always the best teams that win matches," Ibrahimovic told Italian television.
"In two games, Tottenham had just one shot on target. The good thing was we gave a good account of ourselves and we can now go for the title and Coppa Italia."
Despite being Italy's most successful club in Europe with seven crowns, Milan have dropped several hints this season they are focusing on winning the scudetto.
While offloading Ronaldinho during the winter transfer window, the Rossoneri brought in players ineligible to play in the Champions League - Mark van Bommel and Antonio Cassano, Urby Emanuelson.
Vice-president Adriano Galliani agreed Ibrahimovic had not been at his best but rejected any Milan return for Kaka, the player sold to Real Madrid two seasons ago.
"We know Ibra is not doing the things he was doing at the start of the season but he is still very useful," he said. "Kaka is impossible. No Italian club can match his wages."comments