It would not be too outlandish a statement to make if one were to say that Zlatan Ibrahimovic has already written his name in football’s history books, alongside the likes of former compatriot Lionel Messi, considered to be one of the best ever advocates of the beautiful game. He is already referred to as a living, and still active legend by many a pundit or football fan, and for all the right reasons. The big Swede has always produced for club and country, while scoring some beauties in the process. Some refer to him as a God, or even as Jesus reborn, reincarnated, because of the miracles he regularly pulls off. He has excelled at the top level for all of his professional playing career, performing aptly for some of world football’s most prestigious, trophy-laden teams such as AC Milan, Internazionale, Juventus, FC Barcelona and more recently PSG. His selfdom can sometimes overshadow his raw talent and ability, but he has a right to exhibit such an egotistical persona, as he more than backs it up with his regular flashes of sheer class. A prime example of his ego in all of its glory was when he was asked by a reporter what he bought his wife for Christmas. He coolly replied “Nothing, she already has Zlatan.” One thing is for certain though. This confidence that he possesses in himself and shows off so extravagantly helps him on the pitch, as confidence is key in a footballer, especially one aspiring to compete in Europe’s most elite competitions. Zlatan is known as a great goal-scorer, and also as a scorer of great goals. These are not usually traits that go hand-in-hand. They do however, for Zlatan. His arrogance and ability combined make him one of Europe’s most coveted talents, even if his career looks to be nearing its expiry date. If one night and one game were to sum up his character and ability as a person and a player, it would most certainly be that one eventful evening in his home nation of Sweden, in Solna.
When Zlatan Ibrahimovic took to the Friends Arena in Solna, Sweden, on 14 November 2012, he was expected to have a relatively mundane evening, even by his prodigious standards. This night was to mark England and Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard’s 100th donning of the Three Lion’s white jersey. It was also the opening of this new state-of-the-art football stadium in Sweden, which would now become the national team’s new home. All eyes were on Gerrard though, as it was an occasion of more magnitude for a legend of his caliber. It was also a match in which Hodgson chose to bleed a select few of England’s finest youth, starting Raheem Sterling, and Steven Caulker, bringing on the ever-enigmatic Wilfried Zaha in the process. Many were under the influence that England’s pedigree of Premier League and European experience would be too much of a handful for the Swedes. The shift put in by one Swede in particular on this fateful night in Solna has proved to be one of the all-time great performances by a player on the international stage. But the real focal point of this 6-goal thriller, which will be talked about for years to come, came in the 91st minute courtesy of one 6′ 5″ mammoth of a man.
The ball is hoofed some 60 yards up the pitch aimlessly, faintly in the direction of the England goal, and Joe Hart finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place. Out in No Man’s Land, Hart has already began to paint an exuberantly vivid picture in Zlatan’s head, the Manchester City shot-stoppers’ first mistake.
Mistake number 2. Hart heads the ball with little or no conviction just over and marginally wide of the frame of an onrushing Swede. The England ‘keeper dealt with the ball abysmally, he should have at least made a proper attempt to get the ball as far away from opposition as possible, be it backwards, forwards or sideways.
Mistake number 3. Hart is still out of position, so much so that by the time the opposing striker connects with the ball, Hart is still outside his box.
The events that followed had the world of football talking non-stop, raving about arguably football’s best ever over-head kick. Some would even go as far to say as it is one of the best goals ever seen.
Ibrahimovic sees Hart pull off a rather lackadaisical header, before attempting to reposition himself and defend his net. The picture is already painted in Ibra’s mind, and experts argue that the best players in world football have this ability. The ability to paint a mental picture, and then to translate it to the pitch, all in an incredibly short amount of time. He has decided what is going to happen in the following 5 seconds, long before anyone else can even fathom the thought of such an audacious attempt. Ibra looks up to see the ball dangling in mid-air, and it drops almost in slow-motion, as the man mammoth himself decides to capitalise on Joe Hart’s misfortunes. Zlatan eyes up the ball like a predator stalking his prey. As it leaves its highest point in the air, Ibra begins his action. 30 yards away, back to goal. Surely, no chance. But wait, it is Zlatan Ibrahimovic we’re talking about here. As the Swede connects with the ball no more than 6 feet off the ground, the whole stadium watches on in anticipation. Finger-nails are being chewed clean off, hair being pulled anxiously. Ryan Shawcross is running in a 10 yard race back to defend his goal, a race he will never win. The stadium, and the world of football erupted in an almost unseen and unforgettable fashion. No one could quite believe what they’d just witnessed when the ball had crossed the line. Ibrahimovic had already scored 3 goals earlier in the match, single-handedly dismantling the English backline, yet still he wanted more.
Complacency got the better of the English, as they were ripped to shreds by PSG and Sweden’s star man. A colossal achievement for a behemothic man. It was almost fairytale-esque, that such a shift be put in and such a goal scored on the opening night of a new stadium. A riveting finish to a scintillating night in Sweden, eh?
But still the one question remains. It has been lingering on man and woman’s mind for years on end. Is Zlatan Ibrahimovic Christ reincarnated? You can decide that for yourself.