Zlatan Ibrahimovic Represents Everything That's Right with Football
The notion that Zlatan Ibrahimovic isn't rated by English people became tired so long ago that the statement "Remember when Zlatan Ibrahimovic wasn't rated by English people?" has itself become tired.
Everyone is now aware that Zlatan is a magnificent footballer. Everyone with any sense has been aware Zlatan is a magnificent footballer for quite some time now. But there are magnificent footballers, and then there's Zlatan.
It's not just his hugely entertaining, astonishing arrogance that makes Zlatan so special, but it helps. You'll probably know most of his terribly pleased with himself quotes by now (personal favourite, when asked who he thought would win 2012, after Sweden were eliminated, he said “I don't give a sh*t, I'm going on holiday,” reported here by Sabotage Times), but the moment that summed up his bullet-proof self-belief came in the Champions League game between PSG and Barcelona last season.
There was some tiresome hold-up or other, and Zlatan attracted the attention of the referee by whistling at him—in itself a bold move—and gesturing that he should hurry up and get play started again. It was in equal parts incredibly disrespectful and really, really funny.
It was the idea that these crushingly ordinary other footballers who were, by quirk of fate or by accident, on the same field as him and preventing him from playing. This, one must remember, was against a team with two or three of the finest players of our generation. In Zlatan's head, he was better and more important than all of them, and one has to admire that level of arrogance.
Indeed, his reaction to his own, abortive spell at Barcelona is instructive of both his talent and how he perceives said talent. By criticising Pep Guardiola's handling of him (“He bought a Ferrari but drove it like a Fiat,” as reported by the Daily Mail) Zlatan makes clear that Guardiola was wrong. It didn't work out at Barca, and Zlatan thinks—in fact, doesn't just think, knows absolutely—that it was the fault of Guardiola, the manager who shaped Barca into perhaps the best club side of all time, rather than him.
Of course, many people do not find arrogance to be a particularly endearing trait, and in many cases it isn't. However, that's largely because very often those who are arrogant have very little to be arrogant about. They can't back it up with actions, but man alive Zlatan can.
This arrogance, when combined with his own gifts in both skill and physique, is what makes Zlatan so magnificent, because it allows him to try things that most wouldn't even think of. Or if they did think of, wouldn't for a second believe was possible to for a regular human.
Zlatan tries the outrageous, which is laudable enough, but what's better is that he frequently pulls the outrageous off. What player, other than one with his off-the-charts self-belief and phenomenal skill, would successfully execute that overhead kick against England? Or his back-heeled/karate kick goal for PSG against Bastia this weekend just past? Or indeed the thundering half-volley that nearly ripped the net out from fully 35 yards against Anderlecht in the Champions League this week.
Zlatan should be celebrated because he's not an ordinary footballer. He makes crowds gasp in a way that few do these days. He has the capacity to make an often prosaic and frequently dull sport like football magical, and surely that's one of the main reasons we watch. If you like football but still don't appreciate Zlatan, it's possible you're here for the wrong reasons.
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