There was a fantastic game on in Berlin last night, a game that I passed on the opportunity of applying for tickets for. It’s okay, I reassured myself. It’ll be rubbish – a grind – and anyway, I thought he’d retired from international football. But the good Lord wasn’t willing and the creek rose up.
Germany was slapping Sweden around like a market-bought Wii. It was the tyro Marco Reus who was cutting a dash across the pitch, linking stunningly with Özil and Klöse, playing one-twos, one-two-threes even. But I’m a romantic. Mostly it was Zlatan that I missed – one of a few people that is allowed to speak about himself in the third person – a man whose opinion of himself is so enormous that he needs a separate coach to trail along behind the normal one just to carry it in its wake. Zlatan had a go at the captain of the Faeroe Isles side that Sweden briefly went 1-0 down to at the weekend. According to The Guardian, he kept going on about how much money he earned – to a guy whose career in football is second to that of his career as a carpenter.
Zlatan comes across as boorish and aggressive, narcissistic, preening and pompous. He gives the impression that he is so deluded with the sense of his own worth that if you puffed him up any more you could fly him to 40,000 feet and jump out of his huge fucking mouth. Zlatan is an arse, goes the line, but this is a fallacy. Zlatan is an actor, and he knows that somebody needs to play his role. He is Barishnikov playing J.R. Ewing crossed with the absurd Pumblechook. If he wasn’t on the pitch we would have to invent him, such would be the sweeping void in football.
Naturally it was Zlatan that scored Sweden's first in their remarkable comeback when they were 4-0 down. It was Zlatan who tried a flying backheel from a simple cross that missed by a mile. It was Zlatan who reassuringly put his arm around the shoulders of the young Sana who had just made his debut and screwed a chance wide for the improbable equaliser when Zlatan was better placed and a simple pass would have sufficed. It was, naturally, the elbow of Zlatan (I am part of Zlatan) that struck Per Mertesacker in the build-up to that incredible fourth goal.
I was at least at the last German international match at the Olympiastadion when Mesut Özil played the game of his life against the country of his parents’ birth, Turkey. He trudged off the pitch at the end to the chorus of boos (the old stadium was 75 percent Turkish supporting), wiping the stinging tears from his eyes – even though he had previously refused to celebrate his goal. It was bitter. He can be a beautiful player, and it showed in spurts last night, but just because he looks a bit like Peter Lorre it doesn't give him the charisma of a great actor. It is Jogi Löw, the middle aged women's, smart-casual, pin up de jour who has lost a bit more of his Nivea sponsored lacquer after last night, not Zlatan, whether he was instrumental or not in the unforgettable match that I wasn’t at, Berlin will not forget him in much of a hurry.