Thursday 20 October 2016

Veteran Zlatan is still quick with quips

Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Zlatan Ibrahimovic

If Zlatan Ibrahimovic plays the 90 minutes tonight in the way he has dominated the build-up to Ireland's clash with Sweden, it will be a one-man show. The Swedish captain will be heading home with the match ball in one hand, a bunch of flowers in the other and a huge weight off his shoulders.

Eleven men will take to the field for Sweden this evening, backed by a coaching staff headed up by the perma-smiling manager Erk Hamren, but no doubt about it, Zlatan runs the show.

At the pre-match press conference in the match stadium yesterday, Zlatan dominated 95% of the conversation, with the national team boss sat beside him, reduced to the role of a barely-involved observer.

We got two sides of Zlatan. The one who seems happy to poke fun at himself and suck some of the tension out of the air. When asked about a comment by a team-mate that the Irish central defence of O'Shea and Keogh (combined age of 64) was "slow", Zlatan smiled. "I am also slow so it doesn't matter, they can still be good even if they are s low," said the 34-year-old.

He's also quizzed about the praise sent his way by Roy Keane a day earlier. The Ireland assistant manager stated (in a positive way) that Zlatan was a "character" like Eric Cantona.

"I take it as a compliment, if a player like Roy Keane speaks. He has been in the game and he knows what he is talking about," was Zlatan's response.

He also played down his own importance to the national side. "You become the best if you have team-mates around you that are the best. If the collective succeeds, you succeed, it's that simple," he said. "For me, the individual comes second as the collective is more important. If the individual comes good, the team does too. It's important that the team does good."

But he also dishes out the one-liners as only he can.

Asked why he carries on his career when his "legend" is secure, he quips: "the legend can still deliver". What about the theory that he has yet to dominate an international tournament? "I have been dominating wherever I go, I feel no issue about that."

And he admits that life with Sweden's players is not as easy as with his club. "Here I have to be patient with my team-mates. At PSG I made more demands, here I cannot make the same demands. I have the greatest pressure on my shoulders, I want to take the pressure off the team."

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