With a reverence normally befitting minor deities, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been lauded from every angle this week after a spectacular overhead kick sunk a sorry England team.
Zlatan has long maintained an enigmatic status in the mind of the European football fan. A supremely arrogant man who frequently refers to himself as ‘the world’s best player’, Ibrahimovic has, for many, done very little to justify his grand proclamation.
The furore that has been created in the aftermath of "that goal" has been of a magnitude befitting Ibrahimovic’s ego. Former player Alan Shearer hails it as the best goal ever, and even England captain Steven Gerrard called it "the best goal I have ever seen."
In my eyes, this is an overreaction spawned by the deluded perception of greatness afforded to the English national team. It was a brilliant goal, that is absolutely undeniable, but the best of all time it was not.
Gerrard and Shearer have been hoodwinked by the audacity of the goal more than anything. The shock that Ibrahimovic attempted to score with an overhead kick from 30 yards, and against England no less, has stretched the ramifications of the goal out of all logical parameters.
If Zlatan had scored the goal in a friendly against a Greece or a Finland, it would not have been afforded such reverence.
It would go up on YouTube under a caption like “Zlatan Ibrahimovic amazing goal," trend on the site for a few days and then be forgotten.
Pundits such as Shearer would, no doubt, also be quick to question its legitimacy against such an "inferior" footballing nation. “It was good, but it was against Greece," they would chuckle.
The best of all time?
Yet the goal was against England.
I have heard other critics of the goal's ethereal supremacy, using the fact that it was scored in a friendly, in added-time when Sweden were already winning as the basis of their argument.
Whilst I can see the point, this is more in terms of the fact that in extra-time of a major tournament or qualifying match, Ibrahimovic would have been less likely to take the shot.
No, I am not going to diminish what was a fabulous finish, and undoubtedly the best of Ibrahimovic’s career, by undermining it in such a manner. That would be unfair on Zlatan and the goal, as well as disrespecting England.
All questions of validity, pressure and opposition aside, it just simply wasn’t the best goal of all time. The most audacious? Quite possibly, with audacity reminiscent of Rene Higuita’s infamous goalkeeping scorpion against the same opposition.
Yet, in terms of technique and difficulty of execution, while it is a tangible contender, it has its superiors.
And now, the goal.
Joe Hart’s attempted header to clear a speculative Swedish through-ball caused him to run out of his penalty area, vacating a huge gap behind him. The header was spectacularly inept as it arced, without pace, almost straight up into the air.
Ibrahimovic, like all top-class strikers, had chased the ball down and so was in the perfect position. With Hart hopelessly stranded and a covering defender never going to get back in time, with fairly accurate precision the strike always had a chance.
In the event, Zlatan’s precision was exceptional, but the goal to me speaks more about the class of the player than the difficulty of its execution.
Brilliant players can score brilliant goals. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a brilliant player, and this was a brilliant goal, but in terms of the difficulty of execution with such a margin for error, the "greatest-ever" tag is somewhat short of the mark.
Roberto Carlos’ "impossible goal" against Tenerife was a more viable candidate for the accolade, as is Marco van Basten’s unbelievable volley for Holland. Both goals exhibit supreme technique, with a very fine margin for error, and in Carlos’ case absolutely no margin whatsoever.
This unbelievable technique in execution was mirrored in Ibrahimovic’s effort on Wednesday night. Yet it was the audacity rather than the difficulty of its execution that drew gasps.
Brilliant goals such as Marco van Basten’s volley are so outstanding due to the perfection of their execution. Try it again and it probably wouldn’t come off. The beauty of Zlatan’s goal, more than the perfection of its execution, was the fact that he tried it at all.
In an identical situation he could probably score again, such was the available window for error. It may not have been as perfectly executed, but an untended goal is a fairly large target, even over your shoulder from 30 yards away.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, we applaud your audacity. But the best? No sir.