December 5th, 2012 by SeveSanchez
Two weeks, six days, and a dozen hours. That’s approximately how long it’s taken me to regain full function of my bodily fluids since it happened. It. The incident. The magical culmination of individual skill and transcendent fanfaronade, which can only be described as Ibracadabra. Watching Zlatan Ibrahimovic dismantle England in their November 14 friendly (Note from the editor: Sweden also played with Zlatan) was one of the finest moments of my lifelong love affair with the beautiful game. No hyperbole, no joke.
If you’ve followed my manic gibberish at all, you’re well acquainted with my habitual worship at the temple of Zlatan. He’s never played for my team, nor do I have any meaningful attachment to Swedish football. But there’s not a player I’d rather cheer for or pay money to see. His masterful goals, inventive guile, and violent outbursts of attitude are pure entertainment. Whenever he steps onto the pitch, you don’t know exactly what he’s gonna do, but boy, does he always do it. Just as likely to backheel a late winner as he is to kick his own teammate in the head, Zlatan is a throwback to flawed geniuses like Gazza or Maradona. If he wasn’t so polarizing, would we watch? Would everybody have an opinion about Ibra as they do?
No, we watch Zlatan because he makes us feel. Something; anything. Joy, jealousy, contempt — it doesn’t matter. You can’t watch him ply his trade and not be moved. That’s why I revel in Zlatan. Just as we want to see Messi shatter scoring records and see England win a World Cup, we just want to see Zlatan. Period. We want to embrace the inevitable causality of his displays while we can, because they are the images that we remember when our hair becomes as white as Alan Pardew‘s.
You will never forget where you were when this happened:
Scoring a serious contender for greatest goal of all time, Zlatan shoved the proverbial cherry right atop his sweet sundae of stunning strikes. Perching it on the shoulders of an already commendable hat-trick against his biggest critics, the English, was near sublime. What a moment in a career fashioned by so many instances of the outlandish. As Zlatan has aged, he has never ceased in finding new ways to simultaneously score and entertain. In honor of his latest triumph, I hereby declare this a celebration. But not just any celebration, a Madonna Celebration.
For those who don’t know, Celebration was the apropos title of Madonna’s 2009 compilation album. It’s a double-disc effort containing 36 tracks that span an awesome catalog of sugary hit-making. But it’s more than that. Celebration travels through space and time to remind your ears that pop music is not a crime, nor is it capable of stasis. What The Immaculate Collection is to a greatest hits album, Celebration is to the actual birth of Mary, mother of Jesus. (And possible Zlatan?).
And so, it is only natural that two miracles of epic proportions deserve each other. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the best of Madonna. With the following list, I have loosely ranked Zlatan’s Top Ten Goals, and paired each with an appropriate hit from the Madonna anthology. (I know, it’s hard being this awesome sometimes). Obviously, his latest masterpiece against England supersedes the list, as even her Madgesty might struggle to produce a song worthy of THAT goal. Two quick notes — 1) I’ve linked the song titles to the corresponding music videos for your pleasure 2) making selections from IbraDonna is like picking your favorite child; unless you have a redheaded step-child it is EXTREMELY difficult cutting some worthy contenders. Which goals / Madonna tunes do you think I’ve hastily (and obviously) omitted?
10. Barcelona v Real Madrid, 2009 La Liga
Like a Prayer. – Have you ever dated someone that you know is totally wrong for you, but you stick around because of those fleeting moments of beauty between you? So went the Ibrahimovic experiment at Barcelona. After the rise and fall of Ronaldinho, the Catalan club always belonged to Leo Messi. His precious. And rightfully so, as he just might be the greatest ever. So perhaps it is no surprise that moving him out of his favored position to play Zlatan would never, ever work in the long term. Because, as we know about Ibra, to be effective he must have a stronger gravitational pull than Jupiter in whatever side he plays in. Top Dog. Numero Uno. And to his credit, up until December, Zlatan outplayed Messi in his own Barcelona team. When the Swede got injured, Messi returned to his preferred role and the rest was history. But that doesn’t mean that there weren’t moments when everything felt oh so right.
As a song, “Like a Prayer” might be Madonna’s finest. The cherubic choral backing, the bewitching lyrics, the pathos in Madonna’s own vocals; they all weave together in an awesome tapestry of pop. It’s just a beautiful song, if you can enjoy it as such. But can anybody think of the song without the accompanying controversial video? It paraded blasphemy near Westboro Baptist levels (take your pick from sexual attraction to Jesus to burning crosses to Madonna attending church in barely more than her bra), police prejudice, a pleasant scene of attempted gang rape, and pretty stereotypical token black people. But if you can block all that out for just a moment, you will experience an ecstasy akin to watching Ibra’s take against Madrid. His first Clasico, with all the world watching, Zlatan sidefoot volleys with his “weaker” foot into the top corner with the type power usually reserved for high caliber rifles. Everything else about Ibra at Barcelona may have been wrong, but for only a second his remarkable grace turned atheists into believers.
9. AC Milan v Lecce, 2011 Serie A
La Isla Bonita. – I struggled mightily to find an appropriate song for this long range strike. So, I cycled through a few of the classics as I watched and re-watched the goal. When the video for “La Isla Bonita” finally synched up, the parallels were alarmingly striking. Check these out. Both Zlatan and Madonna sport white and red uh, costumes. Both feature a supporting cast composed primarily of Latin men. Both feature a grumpy Italian man frowning in a stadium (okay, I guess that was just for the Lecce goal). And both end with an impassioned group celebration. But there’s still a deeper connection. In the music video, Madonna plays a pious simpleton who fantasizes of another life as a sultry Latina princess. A good girl yearning to be free of the shackles of her culture’s austerity. This duality of character is encapsulated magnificently in the Zlatan goal. I don’t know what you’d call it, because it’s a pacey blast from distance, but it also seems to float in the air ever so softly before glancing into the side netting. There are plenty of Ibra goals that showcase the different facets to his game, but never have I seen a goal that manages to exhibit both power and delicacy at the same time. Much like the rhythmic, nay, hypnotic beat of “La Isla Bonita,” the goalkeeper appears frozen in a different dimension, a daydream, as he flaps helplessly at the ball drifting by like a brisk tropical breeze.
8. Sweden v France, EURO 2012
Music. – Remember me? That’s what Zlatan seemed to be saying to perennial Seria A defender Philippe Mexes as he treated the Frenchman like a dummy, volleying a superb strike for Sweden in EURO 2012. Mexes was always relegated to the position of Lucky Pierre between Ibra and the back of the net, the inevitable conclusion of Zlatan meeting ball. It was a game that meant nothing for Sweden, as they were already eliminated from the tournament, save for the matter of pride. National pride, sure, but also on a personal level for Mr. Ibrahimovic. In a world of ruthless finishers, Ronaldos and Messis alike, some started to note the decline of our vaudevillian Swedish striker. Scoring statistics of quantity, rather than quality, had grown more fashionable to the community of footballing elites. So there was an undeniably retro aura as Zlatan bagged this stunner. Timing his run into the box perfectly, having the patience to wait for the cross to drift down, followed by acrobatically firing a volley into the far corner. A typical howdidhedothat effort from the Swede, like so many he has spoiled us with over the years.
If Zlatan reinvigorated his status as one of the greats in a single moment, Madonna brought sexy back with her 2000 single “Music.” See, the ’90s had been a difficult transition for old lady Madge. At the outset of the decade she was still very much an “It Girl.” By the millennium, she was 42, a mother with another bun in the oven, and had grown through some weird musical phases that made her music a more suitable soundtrack to soccer moms than promiscuous teens. “Music” changed all that, by recklessly abandoning an age-appropriate image to reinvent Madonna as a sex object. The consummate party track, “Music” could perhaps be considered the defining song of the musical year (although the “Thong Song” and “Bye Bye Bye” are also in with great groans shouts). Lighthearted and electronic, everything about the song was (and still is) fun. Highlights of the music video include Madonna dressed like a well-funded call girl, Ali G driving her in a limo, a completely necessary strip club scene, and a bizarre karate cartoon sequence. Actually, those aren’t highlights, that’s pretty much it. Regardless, we had our old wanton Madonna back!
7. Inter v Atalanta, 2009 Serie A
Express Yourself. – There is no comparison between the video for “Express Yourself” and Zlatan’s goal against Atalanta, nor is there a significant similarity in the careers of the two superstars in this particular instance. The likeness here is purely lyrical. Listen to the words of Madonna: “Don’t go for second best baby / Put your love to the test” and later “Second best is never enough.” Now a little back story to the goal: this was the final game of the 2008-2009 Serie A season, and Ibrahimovic was currently tied for the top goalscorer in the league. But Ibra simply refused to come second and he proved himself equal to the challenge. Sound familiar? Another lyric: “So if you want it right now, make him show you how / Express what he’s got oh baby ready or not / Express yourself.” Now watch the goal again. Everything about it was purely improvisational. From the trap away from the first defender to the shove on the body of the second (so flagrant) to the unexpected backheel; every single ounce of the effort was down to individual expression by the Swede. And finally: “You deserve the best in life / So if the time isn’t right then move on.” Inter had already clinched the title, and for the fans this thrilling comeback win was the icing on the cake for a highly decorated season. But only known to Zlatan was that it would be his final game, his final goal for the club before moving to Barca that summer. And what a parting gift it was — giving Inter the very best before moving on.
6. Inter v CSKA Moscow, 2007 Champions League
Into the Groove. – There comes a point in the career of any superstar when he or she decides to do just whatever he or she wants. In 1985, Madonna decided she was gonna make a movie. Most people might be deterred by their utter lack of acting proficiency, but not Madonna. And so she birthed the horrific Desperately Seeking Susan. Needing an accompanying song and video, the world got “Into the Groove.” Of all the eccentric and confident songs recorded in the 1980s, none captured the musical quintessence and faddism of the decade moreso than this track. “Into the Groove” injected its lucky listeners with a heavy dose of synth bassline and a nightclub vibe; as well as a message of sexual escapism via the dance floor. The lazy video (basically scenes from the film) bombarded the viewers with wavy highlighted hair, pearl jewelry, messy layers of cut-up clothes, and no fewer than 483 pieces of superfluous accessories. On principle, “Into the Groove” should be an abysmal song. But it’s not. It’s bloody enjoyable. You can throw it on any iPod playlist and it wouldn’t be inappropriate or unwelcome. Give it a try.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Desperately Seeking Susan moment came while playing against CSKA Moscow in the Champions League (see 1:48 in the above video). Few of Zlatan’s other goals throughout his career quite capture everything to his game as this one. With his back to goal, he receives a pass, pirouettes away from two defenders, then rips a laser from outside the box. Not just any bullet, but an outswinging swerver to the top corner. Dribbling prowess, vision, anticipation, power, technique, and confidence– this goal showcased the entirety of his unique talents. Ibra pretty much did whatever he wanted short of film a crappy rom-com and shoot a music video. After scoring, he opens his arms in celebration, not to hug his teammates, but for his teammates, the San Siro, and the world to embrace him for what he is. In recent years Madonna has called “Into the Groove” a “dorky” song that she “feel[s] retarded singing.” And there may come a day in the future when Ibra’s goal against Moscow seems silly and outdated, but that day is not today. No sir.
5. Ajax v AZ Alkmaar, 2004 Eredivisie
Cherish. — By the end of the ’80s, it was safe to say that Madonna had become the type of rebelliously slutty pop icon that all fathers feared their daughters would try to emulate; which, of course, many did. That makes 1989′s “Cherish” all the more perplexing for a single from the First Lady of Pop. It’s just so… wholesome! A cute, doo-wop style melody backs lyrics about puppy love from simpler, more innocent times. And in the video Madonna takes a rare departure from “whore-chic,” appearing almost younger and more natural than her previous stylings. Sure, her clothes get a little wet frolicking on the beach, but wait, look at that! Whales! A little mermaid! Gratuitous female bicep flexing! Honestly, the first time you heard this song, did you even know it was Madonna? Which is why it’s the perfect match for Zlatan’s bicycle kick against Alkmaar. Sure, it was the first of many acrobatic efforts for the big Swede, but this was somehow less obscene and bombastic compared to the others in his collection. It helps that Zlatan was indeed younger (and had hair of exactly the same proportions as Madonna’s in “Cherish”), but that’s not quite it. See, our boy Ibra has never been one to shortchange himself in the aggression department; more often than not, it is he who employs his physicality to turn defenders into his prey. But in this goal, he‘s actually being fouled, mugged and tugged to the ground by his defender. All Zlatan can do is improvise, turning disaster into sheer brilliance. It’s not often the bad boy can turn into faultless victim, a harlot into the girl next door, but when it does, you should cherish the moment.
4. Inter v Bologna, 2008 Serie A
Vogue. — The intro to “Vogue” conveys a brief calmness from the outset, then some bass and percussion creep in, perhaps dropping some hint about what’s to come, then boom! The music is playing and you’re dancing. How the hell did that even happen? Well, Zlatan’s goal against Bologna was kinda like that. Adriano is mindlessly dribbling in the corner as everybody else stands around twiddling their rigatoni, then he whips a hasty cross into the box, and before you can start thinking of how an opportunity might develop Ibra is celebrating. Backheeling a heavy cross at chest height, near post? Unheard of, unexplainable. It’s like someone actually gifting you Frankincense — where are you even supposed to put that hot holy mess?
Zlatan’s over-the-top flamboyance is only rivaled by that of “Vogue.” The choreography and pageantry reach a surreal level of dizzying heights. The actual spastic movement of voguing is as ridiculous as Ibra’s audacious display of flexibility. Even for a dance record, even for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, this is escapism beyond the normal scope of imagination. Superlative stuff; the type of things “the kids” everywhere want to try at home. My favorite comparison? Both videos have serious-looking men in suits that seem unimpressed (like, McKayla Maroney status) by the awesomeness they’re witnessing. Look at Jose Mourinho standing unemotionally, as if Zlatan just delivered his newspaper. Strike a pose?
3. Juventus v Benfica, 2005 Friendly
Burning Up. – It wasn’t her first single nor was it her first number one. When people list the many hits of Madonna, it’s never one of the first mentions. But it would be wrong to say her second single, “Burning Up,” isn’t one of Madonna’s most memorable tracks. Its sound is so distinct, it protrudes like a broken bone from the rest of her collection until it’s impossible to ignore it. Except there’s nothing broken about this song. It merely went a place Madonna never dared to venture again. A hearty serving of electric guitar and visceral lyrics (“But you don’t even know I’m alive / And this pounding in my heart just won’t die”) invokes an edgier quality to “Burning Up.” The video also dabbled in the politics of power. For example, Madonna spends a good amount of time writhing around in chains, then gets absolutely trucked by a speeding car during the finale, only to reveal that it was she (rather than her lover) who was driving the deathmobile. Deep down, I think we have all wanted to see Madonna on the wrong side of a hit and run at some point in our lives. Fingers crossed.
If you could translate high speed vehicular manslaughter into a goal, it would look something like this Zlatan thunderbolt. It came pretty early in his career (a la “Burning Up”), and in something of a meaningless preseason friendly. But what it lacked in importance, it compensated for with nonconformity. In danger of being typecast as a showpony, a mere jester of footwork and alchemy, Ibrahimovic dusted off his Fender and unleashed the type of riff that would make Hendrix or Seedorf blush. In front of Ronald Koeman too, his old manager, as if to say, “Oh yeah, I do this now too. It’s a thing now.” So maybe it’s arguably atypical of Zlatan’s famous body of work, getting lost in his many dazzling moments of skilled craftsmanship. But it remains imprinted in everyone’s memory of Zlatan; an “oh yeah, THAT goal” that cannot be unseen. And it was an ever so subtle harbinger of the things to come from Zlatan, a fountain of power buried underneath his massive bag of tricks, massive ego, and massive nose.
2. Sweden v Italy, EURO 2004
Like a Virgin. — Too easy. In the beginning of the iconic video, Madonna gingerly explores Venice as a lion simultaneously stalks the streets (presumably to devour small Italian children). This blatant imagery coupled with the lyrics (regardless of the unsettling Reservoir Dogs analysis) about feeling a love as if it were the first time — could not be any more applicable to Zlatan’s masterclass in EURO 2004. An upstart in the Dutch League, Ibra was still an unknown quantity at this point in his career. Sure, he’d drawn attention with his performances at Ajax, but this was his coming out party. Sweden desperately needed a late equalizer to leapfrog Italy into pole position for the knockout rounds of the tournament, and Zlatan only goes and delivers a goal that seemed to defy physics. Then in the summer moves to Italy, no less, and becomes the crown prince of Serie A. It was his, “Hello, world” moment. Much in the same way “Like a Virgin” turned a starlet into a superstar, cementing both popularity and a defining style, the backheel dagger for Sweden anointed Zlatan as one of the chosen ones of our game.
1. Ajax v NAC Breda, 2004 Eredivisie
Justify My Love. – This is it. We’ve reached the summit. There is no other goal that encompasses the essence of Zlatan quite like his majestic solo effort against Breda. Embarrassing opponents, relegating teammates to bystanders, overconfidence, misdirection, ingenuity– it’s all there. From the time he receives the pass until the ball crosses the line, I count 10 full seconds of Zlatan dribbling (basically the same time as Maradona’s against England), 7 feints, 6 defenders beaten, at least 4 scorned opportunities to pass, and 4,387 Dutch curse words muttered (probably). This fabulous goal is about his legend and nothing else. Hardly Zlatan’s most important, this effort’s worth is purely aesthetic, which is what appreciation of Ibrahimovic is all about. Watching this goal is like watching a savant carve his way through his own imagined backyard match. Indeed, you get the feeling that Zlatan, and only Zlatan, has previously envisioned this type of masterpiece in his head, and he’s really rediscovering a distant daydream rather than forging a new movement.
The Breda goal is so obscene, so self-indulgent, that there can only be one logical Madonna selection. No matter how old I get, I’ll never feel old enough to watch the video for “Justify My Love.” Even reviewing it to write this has left me uncomfortable, borderline scarred. It was originally banned on MTV, and still should be. Why? Well, first let me save you the trouble of listening to the song. Essentially, Madonna whispers a bunch of words that are supposed to be avant-garde and sexy, with a monotone keyboard melody and a drum machine, mixed with some heavy breathing. Imagine getting a phone call from a sex pervert who’s also a crappy film school drop out. It’s something like that, it’s just NOT A SONG. Madonna didn’t even try to make it musical, she just wanted an excuse to strip down and perpetuate her sexual deviance. The accompanying video then is as controversial as you’d expect, complete with seduction, androgyny, lingerie, voyeurs, etc. I’m pretty sure the ancestor of Slender Man is in there too. Looking at Zlatan’s goal, his silky movement captured in the grainy footage, evokes the same explicit imagery as Madonna’s adult noir. If the Ibrahimovic goal is soccer-porn, “Justify My Love” is just regular porn. Or maybe vice versa?
Finally, from the great man himself: “In 2004, I was at Ajax and Juve were about to sign me. [Rafael] Van der Vaart wasn’t speaking to me because he said I injured him in training on purpose. I didn’t. When I entered the pitch for the game against Breda, the Ajax fans whistled me as they supported Van der Vaart. He was injured and could not play. I did play, scored twice and made four assists. For one of the goals, I received the ball with a defender on my back. Another tried to challenge me but I kept the ball from both. Then I turned and saw the goal. I was going towards the goal dribbling past players – bam, bam, bam – as I searched for a moment to shoot. It did not come so I kept on going past different players. Then I was past the goalkeeper. I decided to go backwards to get a better angle to score. I went past the same player again. I used to play with him, but didn’t realise it. He said to me: ‘Zlatan, I thought we were friends.’ I apologised because I didn’t realise it was a former team-mate. It was my best goal. Van der Vaart? His reaction was his problem. I did not care. The next day I signed for Juve.”
Hope you’ve enjoyed this mystical voyage of Ibracissism. If you still want more Zlatan, check out this little piece written following his destruction of England.Tags: Ibrahimovic, Madonna