Zlatan Ibrahimovic won no fewer than 13 league titles while representing some of the biggest clubs in Europe – AC Milan, Juventus, Inter, PSG, Manchester United, Ajax and Barcelona – and few players in the history of the sport boast quite as many world-class team-mates.
The 41-year-old named his all-time best team-mates XI in his book ‘I Am Football’: Gianluigi Buffon, Lilian Thuram, Thiago Silva, Alessandro Nesta, Maxwell, Patrick Vieira, Xavi, Pavel Nedved, Lionel Messi, himself (obviously) and Ronaldinho. He also named a bench of Julio Cesar, Andres Iniesta, Fabio Cannavaro, Gennaro Gattuso and Clarence Seedorf.
Naturally, that’s an absolutely outstanding XI. But there are some incredible players that missed out. We’ve put together a full XI of players that played alongside Ibrahimovic but didn’t make the cut.
GK: Mike Maignan
Ibrahimovic curiously crossed the name of David de Gea out on his subs bench, instead naming Inter’s Julio Cesar as the back-up.
He published his book in 2018, long before he returned to the San Siro for his final swansong, but he might well have considered Maignan.
‘Magic Mike’ was absolutely sensational in AC Milan’s 2021-22 Scudetto triumph and run to the semi-finals. France’s future No.1.
RB: Javier Zanetti
The eternal Argentinian full-back and Ibrahimovic won three successive Scudetti together at Inter between 2006 and 2009. Ibra scored 57 goals in just 88 Serie A appearances for the Nerazzurri.
“What an incredible guy he is, he has great character and he is one who makes the difference,” Zanetti recalled in an interview with FourFourTwo in 2017.
“His three years with us were spectacular and filled with trophies but the thing I can never forget happened once during training. The ball was in the air and he raised his foot over the head of a teammate dispossessing him off the ball with the most delicate of touches I have ever seen.
“He knew Taekwondo or something similar and for this reason you can’t be surprised by his movement. If you look at his height, you might be fooled to believe that he’s not technically gifted but he is a different player, unique. We were very lucky to have in our team.”
Inter fans should put more respect for Ibrahimovic.
Without him, their 'best ever player Zanetti' had spent 9 (NINE) years at Inter with just one EL cup and 0 Scudetti.
Club legend for Milan & Inter 🏆 pic.twitter.com/8XKkGMNPyW
— Saturnion 🙂 (@saturnion13) May 27, 2022
CB: Walter Samuel
Another Argentinian that was a key part of that Inter side, Samuel went on to claim a treble the year after Ibrahimovic’s departure – and he denied Ibrahimovic a shot at Champions League glory by producing an absolutely colossal performance as Inter beat Barcelona in the 2010 semi-finals.
CB: Carles Puyol
Both Pep Guardiola and Ibrahimovic would agree that the striker’s one and only year at the Camp Nou didn’t quite go as they envisaged. But it wasn’t all bad – Barcelona retained their La Liga crown, Zlatan scored a match-winner in his only appearance in El Clasico.
As evidenced by choosing Xavi and Lionel Messi in his best-ever team-mates XI, Ibrahimovic was not too proud to recognise the talent he played alongside in that era-defining Barcelona team. And club captain Puyol was another legend of the game in that dressing room.
LB: Cristian Chivu
Of course Ibrahimovic chose Maxwell in his favourite team-mates XI. The pair have enjoyed a friendship that lasted over 20 years, and they played alongside one another at clubs in four different countries.
But he was also pretty fond of Romanian left-back Chivu, who played alongside Ibra at both Ajax and Inter.
“Chivu is a great defender and he will be very important for us,” Ibrahimovic said when Inter signed Chivu from Roma in the summer of 2007. He’d go on to win tons of silverware at the San Siro, including their famous treble of 2009-10.
DM: Sergio Busquets
Xavi and Iniesta were mentioned in Ibrahimovic’s all-time favourite XI but the third member of Barcelona’s world-conquering midfield missed out. There doesn’t appear to be any bad blood between the pair, though.
“In personal terms, Ibra is a great guy,” Busquets told Le Parisien in 2013. “He’s a serious guy, who makes fun of you when you least expect it. I really had a great year with him.
“In sporting terms, it’s clear he wasn’t able to give the best of himself. You could sense he was unhappy. The coach didn’t count on him anymore, he wanted to change the system and put [Lionel] Messi through the middle of the attack. But Zlatan wasn’t bad when he was with us.
“He could have stayed at Barca. An Ibra-Messi tandem would have been marvellous, but history decided otherwise. In the dressing room, I never saw Zlatan get annoyed with [Carles] Puyol, Xavi or [Andres] Iniesta. Perhaps we had a different dressing room to the ones he’d been used to or the one at PSG.”
CM: Paul Pogba
Pogba and Ibrahimovic only spent one proper season together at Manchester United, but that was arguably the best of the post-Ferguson era.
In the 2016-17 campaign, Ibra scored 28 goals in all competitions, United won the League Cup and Europa League and Pogba looked as though he’d go on to be a successful signing at Old Trafford. The pair of summer signings enjoyed a strong relationship on and off the pitch, and Pogba came to Ibrahimovic’s defence in 2021 when the forward was accused of racism.
Zlatan… racist? 🤨 He loves me too much so he's the last person I'd think of as racist! Come on, don't joke with that one! 🤣
— Paul Pogba (@paulpogba) January 27, 2021
CM: Wesley Sneijder
The two Inter legends never actually crossed paths at the San Siro. Sneijder arrived from Real Madrid the same summer that Ibrahimovic left for Barcelona.
But they did play alongside one another at Ajax in the early 2000s. Ibrahimovic was establishing himself as an Eredivisie superstar while Sneijder was breaking out of the academy. They featured alongside one another – and the likes of Rafael van der Vaart and Nigel De Jong – as Ronald Koeman’s Ajax reached the Champions League quarter-finals in 2002-03.
FWR: Angel Di Maria
“I have played with Leo [Lionel Messi], Cristiano [Ronaldo], [Wayne] Rooney, and now I have the chance to play with Ibra,” Di Maria said after arriving at PSG in the summer of 2015.
“I’d never realised how good he is, all the moves he has, despite him being so tall. I was very surprised, honestly, from the day I arrived.”
The right side of attack isn’t strictly Di Maria’s best position, but the Argentinian is as selfless as he is versatile and would surely do a job anywhere.
The two players only spent one season together in the French capital, but it was arguably the best season of Ibrahimovic’s career. In 2015-16, he scored 50 goals in all competitions as the Parisiens won a domestic treble, while Di Maria notched up no fewer than 18 assists in Ligue 1.
ST: Edinson Cavani
Cavani and Ibrahimovic overlapped for three seasons at the Parc des Princes and in that time the two forwards scored a combined 202(!) goals. PSG unsurprisingly won the Ligue 1 title in each of those three campaigns.
The pair seemed to get the best out of one another on the pitch, but they weren’t best buds off it – so it was perhaps no surprise that Ibrahimovic picked himself ahead of Cavani in his best team-mates XI.
“The only person he did not get along with was Cavani,” former LA Galaxy defender Michael Ciani told RMC Sport.
“He told me that he only hated three or four people in his career… and one of them was Cavani.
“If you are close to Cavani, Ibra does not like it. Either you are with Ibra, or you are against him.”
FWL: Thierry Henry
Neither Ibrahimovic nor Henry were at their very best for Barcelona in 2009-10. The former was an awkward fit for Guardiola’s gameplan and the latter was on the downslope in his final season at the Camp Nou.
Still, the legendary French forward is undoubtedly one of the greatest players that Ibrahimovic shared a dressing room with and you imagine had they played alongside one another at another time or place, they’d have made for a pretty devastating attack.
Either way, there’s clearly a lot of mutual respect between the two.
Why is there no picture of Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the wall at Manchester United?
Just wait for his answer. 😂 pic.twitter.com/ZFzHTK8dKo
— Soccer AM (@SoccerAM) October 27, 2017