84 minutes had passed when Zlatan Ibrahimovic slotted in a low free-kick that rocketed past a hapless Joe Hart like a missile to complete his hat-trick and a brilliant 3-2 comeback for Sweden against England in Stockholm and the English looking toothless in attack must have thought that was it – having gone past Henrik Larsson’s tally with the Blagult, he was done having fun.
But six minutes later, the giant Swedish striker pulled off the impossible scoring an overhead kick from 35 yards out to complete a single handed rout of the English team that was confused as to whether to feel embarrassed about what had just happened or feel privileged to have had been present on the ground to witness one of the greatest goals scored by the PSG forward who is undoubtedly the world’s best ‘striker’ today.
Out came the yellow jersey, and wildly ran the 31-year old to celebrate a classic ‘Ibracadra’ moment with the home fans at the newly constructed national stadium. It wasn’t in disbelief. For being the most self-assured footballer you’d ever come across on the planet he knew for sure he could attain what everyone else had deemed unattainable. Perhaps it was in relief, that finally he had shamed the English media for continuously looking down upon his abilities all throughout his illustrious career by demolishing their own national team in quite some fashion.
All the stories about his ego and the self-centered dominating personality aside, truth be told, Zlatan does not need the acknowledgment from that particular section of the media to prove what the rest of world already knows – he may not be the best player, but he is certainly the best true striker playing football today.
|'Don't mess with the Zlatan' | the impossible goal that changed everything for 'Ibracadabra'|
Geographically England is separated from the rest of the European continent via the English Channel, but it seems its media is as adrift in their logic behind judging a non-English player’s capabilities. There is a telepathic rule amongst the English folks which professes that a player from outside the island is only good if he is able to leave an impression on them either on their shores or against one of their teams.
Francesco Totti, one of the most recognized faces of European football never received recognition in England with Graeme Souness even mocking his capabilities stating on one occasion that had the Italian been that good, he would have definitely moved to a bigger club a long time ago.
But Ibrahimovic is one player, whose achievements have constantly been put off by the English media owing to that fact that he was a failure when it came to performing against the English clubs and the ‘Three Lions’. Never mind the fact that for seven straight seasons between 2004 to 2011, the Swede was a champion wherever he played, winning league titles with the likes of Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona and AC Milan – some of the biggest names in football and a privilege that not many players get to enjoy.
Never mind the fact that not many English players and England as a football team have left a greater impression outside their own homeland anyway. Yet when it comes to the English, there ought to be something that they’ve seen before their own eyes for them to actually believe and acknowledge it.
There was a reason why the best team in the world sanctioned the shelling out of some 40 million odd Euros and a certain Samuel Eto’o to acquire his services in 2009, a move heralded by all at that moment as the one that would virtually make the Catalans unplayable until it failed a year later and he was loaned out thereafter.
|"Sometimes you have to hold your hands up to a special individual performance, and that was a world-class performance from a world-class player.
"It was the best goal I have ever seen. The best before that was Wayne Rooney's [for Manchester United against Manchester City]"
|Steven Gerrard completely smitten by Ibra who overshadowed his 100th appearance for England|
His time at the Nou Camp is remembered for that sluggish performance against Inter in the Champions League semi-finals double header in the 2009-10 season but it was the same Ibrahimovic who was being praised for scoring all of Barcelona’s away goals in the round of 16 and the quarter-finals against Stuttgart and Arsenal so the brilliance of Lionel Messi and Co. could finish off the job at home. Accused of shying away when it matters the most, it was his solitary goal in a forty minute cameo off the bench that won Barcelona the home leg of the El Classico -his first for the record.
21 goals and 13 assists in 45 appearances is not a failure in pure footballing terms and it wasn’t his talent as a footballer but his dominating personality that led to his disappointment under Pep Guardiola who had to sell him in the larger interest of the team. But it definitely takes something special to force the best player in the world to question his importance in the team as revealed in L'Equipe’s correspondent Alex Julliard’s book on the Argentine superstar. Probably the book best described the situation by stating that the town was not big enough for the two men and it was Ibra who had to go.
More than two and a half years have passed since that fateful season, and Ibrahimovic more than anyone else has well moved on and infact since his spell at AC Milan, which was cut short thanks to the Milanese giants financial problems, it is only in these couple of seasons that Ibra has started firing in all cylinders unleashing one piece of magic after the other.
As far as the English are concerned, his swagger of a performance in the 2-3 narrow defeat against their national team during the recently concluded Euros was a testament to what he is capable of even in the company of an average group of players who are made to look good in his presence. Such is the aura of the striker who is in the form of his life this year. Who can forget that ridiculous goal against France in the same tournament! Nothing but Sheer brilliance! Infact he was the only player to have been sent home after the group stages and yet be named in the team of the tournament by UEFA.
|"That's the way it is with the English. If you score against them you're a good player, if you don't score against them you're not a good player.
"I remember Lionel Messi before the 2009 Champions League Final. Then he scored against Manchester United and suddenly he was the best player in the world.
"Maybe now they'll say something like that about me."
|Zlatan Ibrahimovic was modest as he spoke of his four goals against England in the new arena|
Yes, the Champions League still eludes him but at 31 and currently working wonders for PSG this season, a breakthrough cannot be ruled out given the financial capabilities of his new employers coupled with his own ability to take each opponent head on entirely on his own.
The English media has the knack of overhyping an English youngster ever before he is tested at the highest level and it was Wilfried Zaha’s turn on Wednesday who was made to look like the star of the show much before kickoff. But by running his own show Ibrahimovic has set the bar so high for these youngsters who would do well to avoid the hype and instead concentrate on keeping their feet on the ground or risk following the footsteps of Theo Walcott who was preyed upon by an overzealous media that takes pleasure in avoiding anything that does not belong to their shores, and was later brought down to earth by the same people.
Surely, a man of Ibrahimovic’s class does not need the attention of that particular faction. In less than ten days he has scored 4 goals and assisted another 4 (one of these assists, an unthinkable pass to Hourau to complete a 4-1 rout of Zagreb in the Champions League) in just two games, while since the start of the current season he has scored no less than 18 goals and assisted another 7 in 19 appearances for both club and country only 3 shy of Messi’s haul of 21 in the same number of games played by the Argentine superstar.
More importantly under his leadership, the Swedish national team looks more and more dangerous with every passing international fixture, and that was professed last month when they clawed back from a four goal deficit to share points with the Germans.
Just a few hours prior to kickoff at Stockholm, FIFA had revealed the official list for the ‘Puskas award’ given to the best goal of the year. Irony has its own way of having the last laugh, as little did the panel know that the best of the year would infact come a little later that night by the man who has left the globe gushing with awe, through his amazing talent.
If only they had waited for a little more.
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