Not since Maverick and Ice Man jostled around in their F-14s in Top Gun has there been such a clash of titanic egos as this week’s World Cup Play-Off first leg between Sweden and Portugal.
In one corner Zlatan (book title: ‘I Am Zlatan’) Ibrahimovic. In the other the man who humbly calls himself CR7 – Cristiano Ronaldo. But who wins the title of the preeminent galact-ego footballer of his time?
When it comes to unshakeable confidence in their own human qualities, this is a true battle of titans.
Zlatan’s record here is unshakeably strong. Once asked what he had bought his partner for her birthday, he replied: 'Nothing, she already has Zlatan.'
When a reporter jokingly asked if was gay, he replied simply: “Come over to my house and I’ll show you who’s gay. And bring your sisters”.
And when asked by Arsene Wenger to take a trial at Arsenal early in his career, he rejected the offer: “I couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘No way, Zlatan doesn’t do auditions’.”
Of course Ronaldo is no slouch in this area. He once gave his thoughts on why some fans don’t like him: “Because I'm rich, handsome and a great player. There's no other explanation."
While Zlatan seems to have at least a whiff of irony about his arrogance, Ronaldo’s appears eerily dead-pan. And on the field with his winks, step-overs and solo celebrations there really is no equal.
During one Euro 2010 match he even had the audacity to change hairstyles at half-time.
Verdict: Ronaldo by a well-groomed nose
Ronaldo’s portfolio reads like the index page of a performance car mag - Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano, Bentley Continental GT Speed, Porsche Cayenne Turbo, Rolls-Royce Phantom, Audi R8, Bugatti Veyron, BMW X5 4.8 iS, Bentley Arnage, Ferrari F430 and Porsche 911 Turbo have all been graced by the CR7 posterior.
But while Cristiano collects them like keyrings, Ibra professes to a genuine passion for cars and speed: "I drive like a madman. Once I got up to 325kmph and I had the police behind me. I've done so many silly things I daren't think about now". At Barcelona, he famously ignored the player’s car ban by turning up for training in a £1m Ferrari Enzo.
Even more important to the man who has everything than what’s in the garage of course, is what’s in the trophy cabinet. While both can boast league titles, domestic cups and Champions League trophies, Ibrahimovic’s record of nine titles in the last 10 years with six different clubs is the modern footballing equivalent of King Midas.
Salary and Endorsements
Zlatan’s name is registered as a trademark throughout the EU (of course) and his pre-tax salary at PSG clocks in at a whopping £60m to accommodate France’s 75 per cent tax laws.
But with fried chicken, watches, motor oil and now his own line of underpants to his name, this is Cristiano’s territory. In Forbe’s Top-Earning Athlete’s Rich List of 2013, he clocked in at number 9 with $44m total earnings. Ibra meanwhile limps in at number 76 with a mere $20m.
Winner: Ronaldo by a distance
Falling out with people on a regular basis is a reliable barometer of star status. While Ronaldo has had ‘spats’, Ibrahimovic likes his bust-ups a little more dramatic. In his book he describes fights with Mido, Van Der Vaart, Leonardo, Chiellini and others, plus how he told Pep Guardiola he “had no balls”.
As he himself describes his combustible temper: “The red mist descended. That’s when you need to leave me alone to wreck stuff in peace.”
Oh yeh, they play football too. Both are in the form of their lives.
Ibrahimovic is nearing 300 club goals which include every type of goal possible - headers, tap-ins, solos and 40 yard overheads. He already has 17 goals in 19 games this season and Arsene Wenger recently suggested he is currently the best player in the world: "Right now, he's better than Messi and Ronaldo. At 32, he knows how best to exploit his talent."
Yet Ronaldo's numbers for Madrid beggar belief: 225 goals in 216 appearances, with 27 goals in 20 games for club and country this season.
It was always going to be decided by who carried their countries to Brazil and in typical style, Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic scored all the goals for their respective teams. But Ronaldo's second-leg hat-trick and subsequent "I'm the man" celebrations set him apart. Even Zlatan had to clap his opponent's brilliant finishing and that kind of humility has to be marked down.
TOTAL SCORE: Ronaldo 4-3 Ibrahimovic. Ronaldo's too good and he knows it.