Zlatan Ibrahimovic always knew he was going to score. There’s a hint of Cantona about the way the Swede has galvanised Man United and helped the club take home an undeserved League Cup. Like Eric, he looks around Old Trafford and thinks is the club big enough for me rather than vice versa. That outstretched arms celebration (the angel of the north-west?) declares never mind the gaffer, I am the Special One. This is a man who can state, in all seriousness, “I am a lion” and casually mentions his 32 trophies in the post-match interviews.
Zlatan might have an ego the size of the Shard (as does Ronaldo who even has his own CR9 crockery) but it is his self-belief that separates him from other players. In his book What Sport Tells Us About Life, former cricketer Ed Smith makes a convincing case that genius, arrogance and even madness are often bedfellows. He agues that Zinedine Zidane headbutted Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup Final partly because he was convinced that he would score the winning goal in his final game. Only when Buffon made a great save from Zidane’s header in the 104th minute, the French talisman short-circuited. Discovering his triumph was not inevitable, Zidane exploded when Materazzi gave him some verbal abuse and was sent off for that infamous butt.
THE LION KING
Mathew Syed writes in Bounce how many players and athletes turn to God, believing that Divine help will cause them to succeed. It might not make sense, but the elimination of doubt does seem to have a positive effect in sport. Brian Clough (like Zlatan a number nine) said when he was appointed at Hartlepool: “Age does not count. It’s what you know about football that matters. I know I am better than the 500 or so managers who have been sacked since the war. If they had known anything about the game they wouldn’t have lost their jobs."
Tony Cascarino revealed in his book Full Time how he was beset by doubts, choking when one-on-one with the keeper. You can’t imagine Ibrahimovic hesitating. He knows he will score because in his own mind he is the best. As he said after scoring that late header against Southampton at Wembley: “I look good. I know I look good. I feel fresh. I feel good. I feel like an animal… I came when people thought it was impossible for me to do what I am able to do. It feels good. I am enjoying it. The important thing is what I believed. What I predicted. That is exactly what I am doing.”