Ajax striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic pictured a 0-0 draw with Arsenal, Amsterdam tournament, Amsterdam Arena, 01 August 2004

A forensic analysis of Ibrahimovic’s remarkable 2004 solo goal for Ajax – his best ever?

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has done a lot of incredible things in his career – both on and off the pitch – but perhaps few more remarkable than that solo goal he scored for Ajax in 2004.

That long-range bicycle kick against England, one of four goals on the night, was good, sure, but that was just the Oscar-bait performance to cap an accomplished career. The making of the man came nearly a decade earlier.

Preparing for a game against NAC Breda in August 2004, just two weeks before he completed a move to Juventus, Ibrahimovic wanted to give Dutch football something to remember him for. And he certainly did that.

He would end the game with two goals and four assists in a 6-2 victory, but that was never going to be enough. He wanted to score a goal we’d still be talking about 16 years later.

And as we’ve all discovered in the intervening period, what Zlatan wants to do, Zlatan does.

It could have ended up as another assist had his first touch been more composed and allowed him to feed the team-mate bursting through on his right.

Instead, with that avenue closed off, he ended up forced – by his own mindset if not position of his team-mates and opponents – to do everything himself.

Breaking it down

Strength and close control are a big part of many great goals, but it’s unusual for those two factors to be quite so visible, quite so close together.

Indeed, if you’re going to pivot from good footballer to comic-book superhero, a defender racing in to tackle you and bouncing off as if there’s a forcefield around you is as good an origin story as any.

From this point on, the Ibrahimovic who took a heavy first touch is gone, and the Zlatan who recovered it has taken his place.

Those Ajax players who might have previously called for the ball have realised there’s no need to even make a run, such is his clear determination to finish the job he hadn’t even immediately been aware of having started.

His movement isn’t even especially subtle, yet it feels like his feet are calling out to the NAC defenders, telling them when they’re allowed to wave a leg.

Of course when that moment arrives he’s already long gone, but that’s not enough to stop him beating the same player for a second time, as if holding a pendulum in front of his opponent’s face.

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READ: Ranking 13 of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s best goals in order of ridiculousness

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Even with the final flourish, the moment at which you’re about to give a grudging nod and mutter “fair fucks” under your breath, he doesn’t even give you that luxury.

Just as you’re preparing to applaud the burst beyond two trailing defenders and calm finish, he reminds us that he’s still not ready to score the goal we thought he was going to score. Even watching the goal back now, almost 20 years on, that last-minute drag back can come as a surprise.

This may be in part because it’s not just unexpected but also unnecessary. The goal against England was extravagant but also, arguably, the most efficient route to goal from where he was stood.

This, instead, was a man knowing the simple finish was there but adding an extra step, perhaps to keep himself on his toes.

We’d be talking about the goal for years even without that moment, but its addition feels like a personal touch, an acknowledgement that he was in control of the narrative even more than we might like to admit.

By Tom Victor

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