As always with these things, the news isn’t just “the news.” The headlines in England are currently awash in praise for Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s late wonder strike last night, art of a four-goal masterclass that could have been titled Being:Zlatan. The fact he was in a Sweden shirt in Sweden giving Sweden a triumphant 4-2 victory over England was almost an accident of time and space.
A cynic might wonder if the praise from the English papers might be an attempt to reduce the result to some sort of incredible freak aberration, a World Class player randomly hitting peak form the way a radio station plays four of your favourite songs in a row on the way to work. Steven Gerrard’s acknowledgement that the strike was “the best he’s ever seen” seemed to signal there was nothing that could have been done to stop him. And even so, he might be right.
Yet there’s also an element of release after a years’ long crescendo in England to the importance and power of ‘systems.’ After the Euros were dominated by talk of “two banks of four,” “false nines,” “tiki-taka,” and “pragmatic football,” it seemed impossible to speak of the sport without a hat-tip to set-ups, managerial ethos, philosophy, belief in what football should be, blar be blar blar. Whatever happened to single, unrepeatable moments of individual creativity, a la Maradona in ’86, also against England?
Zlatan doesn’t do ‘systems,’ at least in the popular imagination. Upon leaving the flagship of all system sides in Barcelona, Ibrahimovic famously said, Lieutenant Daniels-like, “This is bullshit.” He may have well said the same of Joe Hart and the entire England defense yesterday.
And right now they and the rest of the country love him for it, because it fulfilled the empty promise of so many international friendlies and football in general—it was fun, for fun’s sake. So take some time off today to really enjoy Ibra’s goal, and other’s like it.
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