Throwback Thursday: The Man Who Held His Own in a Fight with Ibra

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s return to Milan has been a blessing for the Rossoneri and for the whole Serie A. Not only did the Italian top-flight regained access to a terrific striker – who can still make a difference at the tender age of 39. But, Serie A fans could also delight themselves again with some typical Ibra antics and facts.

Zlatan the Lion, Zlatan the Immortal, Zlatan the Invincible. Nobody can stand against Zlatan.

Except, maybe, one person – according to a story dating back to the days of his first experience in red and black.

As it happened during a closed training session, there is no video evidence for this particular incident, unfortunately. Therefore, as with all tall tales that everyone has heard (but few have seen in person) we rely on oral tradition to entrust to memory what happened between Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Oguchi Onyewu when they were both Milan players.

Zlatan is, well, Zlatan. There is little not known about the gigantic Swedish striker. Reaching 195 cms and weighing 95 kgs, he also had a black belt in Taekwondo – something he never missed an opportunity to display. Ibrahimovic had his first stint at Milan between 2010 and 2012, where he helped the Rossoneri to win their last league title.

The name of Oguchi Onyewu, on the other hand, will sound unfamiliar to all but the most hardcore football fans. A Nigerian-American center back, he put together a decent career that earned him 69 caps for the US national team, and participation at two World Cups. Onyewu landed in Milan in 2009, however his experience in black and red wasn’t what you would call memorable. Limited by a terrible knee injury, he ended up tallying only one (ONE) appearance for Milan in two years.

Still, the American became known in Milanello (the Rossoneri training center) for being – as if it were possible – even bigger than the Swede, at 193 cms and 100 kgs. And for being involved in a brutal fight that shook the earth around Milanello for about, as the legend goes, 25 minutes!

The pair didn’t like each other from the very beginning. But when Ibrahimovic slide-tackled Onyewu during a practice session in November 2010, all hell broke loose. Witnesses report with surprise that Ibrahimovic’s tackle wasn’t even an overly vicious one. Still, Onyewu didn’t like it one bit. The American stood up, grabbed Zlatan by the neck, and the rest is (fighting) history.

The oral tradition goes that it took 10 men (!) to separate the two, and that coach Massimiliano Allegri was forced to interrupt the training session to cool things down. The following day, CEO Adriano Galliani dismissed the significance of the event when talking to the press, playing the “They are just boys” card, and explaining that the players had already made up – like two scoundrels involved in a classroom fight.

But others on the pitch seem to have had a different recollection. Napoli’s current coach Gennaro Gattuso (not exactly a weakling…) recalled, “I got this great idea of trying to separate them, and I scored a slap from each of them. They spent 25 minutes fighting on the ground, with nobody going (to separate them).”

Just like all mythical stories where accuracy is lost to time, accounts regarding the duration of the brawl vary. Substitute goalkeeper Flavio Roma reported: “Thank God it ended fast. It took the whole group to separate them, and we all risked getting hurt ourselves.

Midfielder Massimo Ambrosini simply put it as “one of the scariest moments in my life. It’s not nice to see two 100 kg men fighting.

…and Zlatan? The Swedish star extensively covered the episode in his autobiography and claimed that he and Onyewu almost killed each other. Yes, Zlatan, but who won? “Nobody won, because he is a monster. He is as big as me, he is very strong, and I don’t see a clear winner.

Ibrahimovic later discovered he had suffered a broken rib during the fight. In perfect Zlatan style, he kept it secret in order to avoid missing the next game and ended up playing with a broken rib.

Onyewu left one year later, without turning out for Milan again: He was surely little missed by the Rossoneri fans, but at least he went down in history as the only one who held his own in a fight with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

This story was originally part of our roundup of the Top 5 fights to have ever happened in Serie A. Click here to find out the other four!