Zlatan Ibrahimovic: How to play as a targetman

Holding up the ball
“The key is not to lose the ball when you get it. If I’m alone, I try to protect the ball and keep defenders away using my back, arms, strength and balance. That’s important because if I can hold the ball, it gives the team a chance to join me in attack. I’ll hold it until the rest of the other players come into play. As soon as there’s a player in a better position, I’ll give him the ball. Or, I can go for goal myself. That’s sometimes my instinct. I’m an intelligent player and will make the right choice at that moment.”

Positioning yourself

“I try to position myself where I can get the ball. Sometimes I drop back to pick it up; other times I find space to help the team and draw a defender from his position. Then I might try to open space so that the midfielders have another option: me. I’m not the type of player to make runs away from play, but sometimes you have to do this to sacrifice yourself for the team, even though you know you will not get the ball. It opens space for others. In a good partnership, the other striker would do the same next time.”

Meeting crosses
“The key is to make your move before the defender: that way you create space for yourself. I’m not the best at that – David Trezeguet is. I’ve never seen somebody more intelligent than him in the box at corners or set-pieces. It’s like he knows exactly where the ball will be, in the air or on the floor. Me? I don’t have that instinct. Sometimes I am on the first post at corners, sometimes I’m on the second. I do it because I have to.”

Anticipating play
“I try to anticipate what is going to happen before I get the ball; where my opponents and team-mates are and where they will be in a few seconds. I look and sense and know what certain players are likely to do. But it’s also impossible to get it right every time. Those who get it right the most are the better players. That’s the difference between a top-class player and a simple one – the best players think alike.”

Battling centre-backs
“Many defenders will tug or push you. You have to be prepared for everything and not underestimate them. They will do this because they are weak and you are strong. A fantastic defender will not resort to this, but will play the game fairly. Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta were tough opponents, but I really respected them.”

Coping with abuse
“Some defenders try to put you off, physically and verbally. Some have said things about my family – they call me a gypsy. My mother is from Croatia; my father, Bosnia. I was born in Sweden and felt 100 per cent Swedish, but that did not matter to them. I don’t get so upset now. The key is to focus on what you have to do in the game, not on what’s being said. One other thing to remember is that you have a responsibility to the team not to react. If you think that it’s part of your job to stay calm, that can help.”


Ibrahimovic wears Nike Pro Combat (opens in new tab) Slider Shorts and Thermal Mock Top, which provide compression technology, protection against cold weather and reduce risk of impact injures

For more football tips see:
Sergio Aguero: Shake off your marker
Rooney: Big match preparation
Radamel Falcao: How to be a penalty-box predator
Thierry Henry: Finishing at speed
Wayne Rooney's shooting drill

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Andy Mitten
Editor at Large

Andy Mitten is Editor at Large of FourFourTwo, interviewing the likes of Lionel Messi, Eric Cantona, Sir Alex Ferguson and Diego Maradona for the magazine. He also founded and is editor of United We Stand, the Manchester United fanzine, and contributes to a number of publications, including GQ, the BBC and The Athletic.