Zlatan's a genius! Arrogant enigma’s wonder goal finally justifies his bragging
22:44 GMT, 15 November 2012
Zlatan Ibrahimovic gave himself the perfect 10 but for once he may have been guilty of underestimating his own importance.
For a start there was the wonder goal, a 30-yard propeller kick, the final piece in his four-goal demolition of England which quickly became an internet sensation, hailed as one of the best goals ever.
But there was more to it, because after a night when the Swedes declared their handsome new national stadium open for business, their captain’s heroics were considered capable of healing social wounds and stemming the rise of the political far-right in the country.
Staggering: Zlatan Ibrahimovic scores his fourth goal against England
It was, in short, some performance. ‘Zlatan’s Arena’ wrote the newspaper Expressen in honour of Ibrahimovic, who was born in Sweden of mixed Balkan descent. He is, indeed, some footballer, although it wasn’t always quite like this. Just as England debate how to get the best from Wayne Rooney, the Swedes for years did the same with their talisman.
Ibrahimovic had everything a modern centre forward might want and he won the title each year, be it with Ajax, Juventus, Inter, Barcelona or AC Milan. Yet rarely did he summon such form with any consistency in a Sweden shirt.
When England beat the Swedes in a friendly at Wembley this time last year, he was anonymous, apparently uninterested, emitting strong vibes of impatience at the failings of his team-mates. It came soon after the publication of his book I, Zlatan in which he dared to criticise Pep Guardiola and recalled how he told the all-conquering Barcelona boss: ‘I am a Ferrari and you are driving me as if I am a Fiat.’
His strike-rate against English teams had been appalling, even though in 2010 he scored twice for Barca against Arsenal. Despite his unwavering self-belief, Ibrahimovic was conscious of popular opinion in England. The statistics would roll out every time he played here, along with the fact that, for all his posturing arrogance, he has failed to win the Champions League.
Main man: Ibrahimovic scored all four goals as England were beaten
This year, however, something changed regarding Ibra the Enigma and his relationship with English football. It started when AC Milan destroyed Arsenal in the San Siro in February. Ibrahimovic scored once but there was more.
He was majestic as he orchestrated a 4-0 win for the Italian champions and he tormented England again in Kiev at Euro 2012, where he was the best player on the pitch despite defeat, as he embraced his new responsibilities in the national team.
When Erik Hamren took control he made a significant tactical tweak, abandoning the 4-4-2 formation to which Swedish football had been wed for many years.
Hamren adopted the increasingly fashionable 4-2-3-1 system but Ibrahimovic, who seemed to be the perfect centre forward for such a system, would be his playmaker in the No 10 role, as well as his captain.
In Stockholm, the stage was set as Sweden declared its new 50,000-seat Friends Arena open for business with the nation locked in a debate about immigration, prompted by growing support for far-right party Sweden Democrats.
Thorn: Ibrahimovic was also impressive last season when AC Milan beat Arsenal
Ibrahimovic, born in Malmo to parents from Bosnia and Croatia, is a totem for Sweden in the 21st century and his heroics against England on Wednesday were celebrated across the country.
After recovering from four down to draw 4-4 with Germany in a World Cup qualifier last month, Swedish fans rejoiced in a thrilling 4-2 win against England, the beauty of the final goal and one of the great individual efforts. But there was more.
Sportbladet dubbed him ‘Sweden’s Pride’, and Pontus Wernbloom said: ‘They probably weren’t happy with that, the idiots. I hope Zlatan shut them up.’
Kim Kallstrom added: ‘He is a modern Swede who stands for new Sweden. With foreign-born parents and certain problems in society, he can hopefully unite the country in a good way.’
If he does this, Ibrahimovic may be justified in upgrading the mark he awarded himself for his contribution to Swedish football from a 10 to an 11.