Sweden hope Ibrahimovic can sparkle now Milan are out

April 3, 2012

Phil O’Connor

There was one soccer coach just as happy as Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola on Tuesday when his side knocked AC Milan out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stage.

That man is Sweden coach Erik Hamren.

With Euro 2012 approaching fast, Hamren will be quietly pleased that top striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic won’t be involved in the final in Munich on May 19 and can instead avoid injury and stay fresh.

Zlatan may not be as pleased. Having won a slew of titles with Juventus, Inter, Barcelona and Milan, “that damn Champions League” (as he once referred to it) remains beyond his grasp.

In a recent interview with a UEFA magazine he changed his tune somewhat, saying he is happy with his career regardless of whether or not he wins Europe’s premier club competition.

This sent me flicking through my notebooks and I came across an entry from a Sweden press conference in 2009, just after he had secured yet another Serie A title with Inter. Ibra finished the season as Italy’s capocannoniere (top scorer) on 25 goals – typically, the goal that put him on top was an outrageous backheel on the last day of the season against Atalanta.

As my Swedish colleagues pressed him on all manner of subjects, I wrote in my notebook: “Zlatan will join Barcelona this summer to win the Champins League. Nothing left for him in Italy.”

Less than two months later, Ibra was revealed as the most expensive signing in Barcelona’s history.

It was to be a bitter move for Ibra. After a good start, his relationship with Guardiola deteriorated and to add insult to injury, Barca were knocked out of the Champions League by the club he had just left.

Even worse, Inter went on to beat Bayern Munich in the final, giving many of his former team mates the medal he craved more than any other.

WIth his relationship with Guardiola damaged beyond repair, Zlatan moved back to Italy and AC Milan, only to see Barcelona win the Champions League without him. Twice in two seasons, the club he had just left won the trophy he most wanted – he could be forgiven for thinking that it is just not meant to be.

However, there are other soccer prizes he has not yet won. Ibra plays for a country that regularly appears at the finals of major championships and he will be a key part of Hamren’s squad that will head to Kiev to face Ukraine, England and France in June.

Malmo native Zlatan was 10 years old when near-neighbours Denmark won the European Championship on Swedish soil in 1992 and with the Champions League now done for another season, he will be able to give the Euros his full attention.

Hamren will be hoping that Zlatan’s pride will be wounded enough to bring out the best in him as he tries to prove to the world that his name belongs in the company of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. A world player of the year award after inspiring Sweden to a shock triumph would also be a nice addition.

At 30 years old and as part of an ageing Milan side, it might represent his best chance of winning a major international trophy.

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