While I have a certain queasiness about the rapaciousness with which football (soccer) has sucked the
life money out of so many other sports (and especially rugby league), and how what used to be a guilty pleasure is now a somehow unavoidable topic of polite conversation, the sport still consumes my imagination.
I recall watching Zlatan Ibrahimovic in his first season at Ajax about 11 years ago. He was gangly, a misfit, overconfident and yet completely out of tune with his team-mates. He was comical. And I was resentful of the praise he garnered in the 2004 European championships, while the graceful Henrik Larsson seemed to be so undervalued by the Swedish public (even after that diving header against Bulgaria). And so, like many English football fans, I’ve always had a resistance to the notion that Zlatan is truly a great. He’s the classic flat-track bully, winning a sequence of domestic titles by crushing smaller opponents, but conspicously failing in the Champions League and in major international tournaments.
Last night, I finished work late, went to the supermarket, got home, made myself something to eat and sat down with my scrambled eggs and my jetlag late in the first half of England-Sweden. England-Sweden – a fixture that has never set my pulse racing, and yet, is pregnant with memories. The summer of 1992 was an poignant one for me, and I picture Graham Taylor’s England sliding out of control. More importantly, I think of 2002, and watching a rather tedious game with the-then-future-Mrs Finch; and the rematch, 4 years later, which we missed as the by-then-Mrs Finch gave birth to our first daughter Emma; this past summer, being off work and with my family for what was one of the most enjoyable games of Euro 2012. Alone with my memories, my eggs and my tabasco sauce, I drifted off.
I woke up late in the second half to the noise of a crowd going wild. Well, going as wild as a Swedish crowd goes. England’s 2-1 lead somehow pulled back to 3-2 to Sweden. I saw a beaming Zlatan, fresh from completing a hat-trick. Bleary-eyed, I focused on the remaining minutes of the game. And then I saw this:
It’s like Zlatan scored that hat-trick just to wake me up to say, “you won’t want to miss this”.
There’s so much to love about this goal: the breadth of Zlatan’s imagination, his speed of thought, his sudden and total commitment to a wholly improbable outcome, and, yes, his ability to prove me wrong.
Still – he’s never done it in a big game, eh?
update: due to the parlous state of international copyright, these videos are being taken down. In Sweden, you can see the goal on TV4′s website, once you’ve sat through a minute (literally a minute) of adverts for winter tyres, pasta sauce, digital cameras and various other things you might not actually need.