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Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Love Him or Hate Him, He Gets in the Headlines Either Way

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Paris St. Germain’s Swedish striker often elicits strong emotions from fans—some love him for his explosive play, others for his quotable sound bites. On the flip side some are rubbed the wrong way by his cocky attitude both on and off the field. For me, he’s a character in the world of football—an individual among the sea of homogenizing commercialism that the professional game has become.

A simple Google search for “Zlatan Quotes” will present you with a plethora of websites. For fun, I will present my top five here:

5. On being misused at Barcelona: “You bought a Ferrari but you drive it like a Fiat”

4. On being marked by then Liverpool defender Stephane Henchoz: “First I went left, he did too. Then I went right, and he did too. Then I went left again, and he went to buy a hot dog.”

3. Reporter – “Do you think it’s even possible for Ajax to lose nine points in nine games?”

Zlatan – “According to my calculations it is possible to lose nine points in only three games.”

2. Reporter – “You’ve got some scars on your face, Zlatan. What has happened?”

Zlatan – “Well…I don’t know…you’ll have to ask your wife about that”

1. When asked by a female reporter about rumors he is gay following a picture with Pique while at                                 Barcelona: “Come over to my house with your sister, baby, and I’ll show you who’s gay!”

 

 

Don’t like these picks? Please see the following sites for more options: http://www.givemesport.com/404705-11-greatest-quotes-from-zlatan-ibrahimovic, http://footballspeak.com/post/2013/03/28/ZLATANISM-Top-25.aspx, and http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/zlatan-ibrahimovic-quotes-best-outspoken-2331210.

 

Redgardless of what you think of the man, his move after scoring a goal against Caen during a French League match on February 16 is worth noting. Like many strikers after scoring a goal he took of his shirt to reveal a tattooed body. But these were not just any tattoos—they were the names of fifty starving people from all over the world. In comments to the Paris Saint Germain football club’s website Mr. Ibrahimovic explained his stunt: “I had 50 names temporarily tattooed on my body. They are the names of real people who are suffering from hunger around the world. The tattoos have gone, but the people are still out there. There are 805 million people who are suffering from hunger around the world. I want you to see them, via me, to help the World Food Programme. This is the first time I have publicly engaged with a charity. If we can reach out to the world leaders, I am sure that together, we can solve the problem of hunger throughout the world.”

 

While his decision to team up with the World Food Programme is commendable, there is obviously much more that remains to be done. Still, for me, it is a nice gesture from a footballer who is so often getting in the headlines for controversial reasons. When football players use their immense fame—and influence—in the world for positive causes it deserves recognition.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.psg.fr/en/News/112002/Article-Club-s-Side/69998/Ibrahimovic-fights-world-hunger

Yugoslavia World Cup 2014: What If Yugoslavia Had Stayed Together?

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What if the South had won the American Civil War? What if Archduke Ferdinand had never been shot in Sarajevo? What if Pearl Harbor was not bombed and the United States hadn’t entered World War Two? What if the Soviet Union had won the Cold War? Alternate histories are an interesting game to play in the study of international history. One could go on forever on these subjects, creating scenarios in one’s mind over scotch in the local pub. Here is one more, a scenario very pertinent to modern history: What if Yugoslavia had not fallen apart in the 1990s?

As a football fan it is hard not to bring this particular alternate history to mind (The Guardian mentioned it 7 years ago), especially during the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Half a world away and twenty years removed from the violence in the Balkans, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina proudly represent independent nations on the green fields of Brazil. Both teams had monumental tasks in their first matches but can hold their heads high—Croatia fell victim to some questionable refereeing in their first match against hosts Brazil, while Bosnia put up a good fight before ultimately coming up short against an Argentina backed by Messi’s brilliance.

But the Balkan flavor of the 2014 World Cup does not end with the big names of Luka Modric and Edin Dzeko. They are merely where it begins. Take the unforgettable finish to yesterday’s meeting between Ecuador and Switzerland as an example.

 

 

Ecuador went up early through a headed goal by Enner Valencia and Switzerland were left looking lost through the first forty-five minutes, facing a 1-0 deficit at half-time. Switzerland needed a spark, and it came from the region many have termed the “powder-keg of Europe”—the Balkans. Just two minutes after coming on as a half-time substitute Admir Mehmedi capitalized on some poor Ecuadorian defending to level proceedings at 1-1. Mehmedi himself is an ethnic Albanian, born in Gostivar, Macedonia (in the northwest corner of the country, near the Kosovo border) in 1991, before moving to Switzerland at the age of two.

Then came the best finish to any of the matches so far. Ecuador looked to have a chance in the third minute of stoppage time when Valon Behrami dove in to block the shot, before gaining control of the ball. Behrami then orchestrated the counter attack, taking the ball across the half way line and setting up the play that eventually gave another second half substitute, Haris Seferovic, the chance to net the winner for Switzerland and settle the final score at 2-1.

Valon Behrami is an ethnic Albanian, born in what was then Titova Mitrovica (now just Mitrovica, a city has seen sporadic ethnic clashes between Serbs and Kosovars since Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008 and subsequent sovereignty in 2012) in present-day Kosovo before moving to Switzerland at age five. Meanwhile, the goal scorer Seferovic was born in Switzerland in 1992 to Bosnian parents who emigrated in the 1980s. What is especially remarkable is that of Switzerland’s World Cup squad of 23 players, an astounding 8 have some Balkan connection:

 

Granit Xhaka: The Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder was born in Basel in 1992 to Albanian parents.

Valon Behrami: As discussed above, the Napoli midfielder was born in present-day Kosovo in 1985 before emigrating to Switzerland in 1990.

Blerim Dzemaili: The 28 year old Napoli midfielder was born in Tetovo, current day FYR Macedonia to an Albanian family before emigrating to Zurich at age 4.

Xherdan Shaquiri: Bayern Munich’s star winger was born in Gnjilane, Yugoslavia (now present-day Kosovo) in 1991 before emigrating to Switzerland a year later.

Haris Seferovic: As discussed above, the Real Sociedad striker was born to Bosnian Parents in Sursee, Switzerland in 1992.

Mario Gavranovic: The twenty four year old FC Zurich forward was born in Lugano to Bosnian Croat parents who emigrated from Gradacac (now Bosnia-Herzegovina) in 1988.

Josip Drmic: The young Bayer Leverkusen striker was born in Lachen Switzerland in 1992 to a Croatian family.

Admir Mehmedi: As discussed above, the Freiburg striker was born in Gostivar, Macedonia in 1991 to an Albanian family before emigrating to Switzerland in 1993.

 

Sports Illustrated wrote an enjoyable article on the Bosnian team in the run up to the World Cup and I would argue that the story of Switzerland’s Balkan contingent is equally enthralling. Certainly it begs the question: what if Yugoslavia had not fallen apart and lost such athletic talent? Obviously sport has a nature vs. nurture element to it—would these footballers have been able to work their way up through the less developed youth systems in an intact Yugoslavia? How much of their progress was aided by having access to modern training facilities in Switzerland? Would they have chosen to represent a Yugoslavian team over the team of their adopted homeland (if their families had even emigrated in the first place)? And what about all the other variables that life throws at us, so far out of any individual’s control?

I argue that they would have had a fighting chance—after all, Yugoslavia was a respectable team before the dark days of the 1990s. They were semi-finalists in the World Cup twice and Quarterfinalists once, in 1990. And who can forget that strange twist of history—because of the wars Yugoslavia was disqualified from the 1992 European Championships after qualifying and was replaced by Denmark . . . the team that went on to win the tournament.

Twenty years on the reverberations of the conflict spread beyond just the teams qualified for this World Cup. The current captain of the Serbian national football team (which did not qualify) is Chelsea right back Branislav Ivanovic, one of the best defenders in the world today. Tiny Montenegro, a country of just over 650,000 and the size of the U.S. state of Connecticut, boast two Premier League players on their squad and gave England a run for their money during qualification for the 2014 World Cup after narrowly missing out on a spot in the 2012 European Championships in a playoff to the Czech Republic. And I won’t even count Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic—the mercurial striker who is currently one of the world’s best—since his Bosniak father (and Croatian mother) emigrated from the former Yugoslavia in the 1970s, long before the collapse. But, if an intact Yugoslavia had fielded a team in 2001 when Zlatan first made his debut for Sweden, might he have opted for the country of his parent’s birth? We will never know, but it’s worth a thought.

This year’s favorites may be Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Holland, and Spain to name a few but—if only for a moment—imagine the possibilities in this World Cup if modern history had taken a different turn.

My Favorite Nike Football Advertisements

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Since the release of Nike’s latest epic football advertisement Winner Takes All ahead of this summer’s World Cup many websites have been writing about the greatest football advertisements in history (Even Esqire got into it!) Unfortunately, many of the lists have been all too similar. So I decided to create a list of my own—one along the lines of one of the themes that this blog follows—football shirts. As I wrote about in the “About” section there is an air of nostalgia in the way that I follow football—the players and shirts are what define historical eras in my mind. Therefore, while “Winner Takes All” is certainly an incredible video that embraces the grass-roots football we grew up on, there are a few more out there that take me back to a simpler time, and still others that fully embody the true meaning of modern, “industrial”, football.

Here is my list that I hope may serve as a sort of anthology for some. I tried my best to include the directors of each film as well as the songs that provided the soundtracks, in addition to a list of the footballers featured in each advertisement. For this effort Vincent Battaglia’s website was quite useful, in addition to that bastion of free information (as long as it is double checked), Wikipedia.

 

Winner Takes All (2014, For the FIFA World Cup in Brazil)

Featuring: Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar Jr., Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Gerard Piqué, Gonzalo Higuaín, Mario Götze, Eden Hazard, Thiago Silva, Andrea Pirlo, David Luiz, Andrés Iniesta, Thibaut Courtois, and Tim Howard.

Since this is the most recent advertisement—and the one that sparked this column—it is a fitting one to start with. The theme of young kids playing in a pick-up game is one that many of us football fans can relate to, and for that I commend Nike in returning to the theme. As a kid in Turkey my friends and I definitely embodied the stars of our time, and that’s why this video stuck a chord with me. My poor foot-work made me more of a Tony Meola at the time—so Tim Howard (or the Hulk, of course) in this video 20 years on.

This advertisement also represents many facets of “industrial football”. Note that the players who appear in their team jerseys are those whose teams (national and/or club) are contracted with Nike. That’s why Eden Hazard (Belgium/Chelsea) and Mario Gotze (Germany/Bayern Munich) wear non-descript kits in this video. Hazard plays in Burrda Sport for Belgium and Adidas for Chelsea while Gotze plays in Adidas for both Germany and Bayern Munich. It is also why Kobe Bryant has a cameo—he is, after all, contracted by Nike. And he appeals to an American audience, one very distant from European soccer. When the bottom line is making money, it explains the rather bizarre scene of Kobe Bryant conversing with Andrea Pirlo—even if Bryant grew up in Italy and is reported to be a soccer fan.

Secret Tournament (Cage Football) (2002, For the FIFA World Cup in Korea/Japan)

Directed by Terry Gilliam

For More Please See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secret_Tournament

Featuring (Teams in Parantheses): (Thierry Henry, Francesco Totti, Hidetoshi Nakata), (Patrick Viera, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Paul Scholes), (Fredrik Ljungberg, Javier Saviola, Luis Enrique), (Edgar Davids, Lilian Thuram, Sylvain Wiltord), (Luis Figo, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo), (Denilson, Ronaldinho, Seol Ki-Hyeon), (Fabio Cannavaro, Tomas Rosicky, Rio Ferdinand), (Claudio Lopez, Gaizka Mendieta, Hernan Crespo), and Eric Cantona.

Music: JXL Vs. Elvis Presley “A Little Less Conversation”

In my mind this is the best Nike advertisement and it takes its place at the top of my list. It is the true roots of the game with players engaged in a quick competition that focuses on individual skill while in a team setting and just one rule, as Cantona charismatically explains: “First goal wins”. The twenty-four football stars are divided into teams of three, competing in a cage football match aboard a freighter. The winners move on and the losers are dumped into the ocean to swim ashore. Notably, none of the players wear their club or national team shirts—whether contracted by Nike or not. In this sense, then, it avoids the awkwardness of “Winner Take All” with Zlatan rocking the shirt of his club side Paris Saint Germain (Sweden are with Adidas) while Cristiano Ronaldo is in Portugal’s Nike shirt (Real Madrid are with Adidas) and Hazard is in a Nike training shirt bearing no resemblance to the kit of either his club or country (his kit allegiances are explained above).

There is also a bit of nostalgia for me personally. This is a clip that made a summer classic out of JXL’s remix of Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation”. The lyrics itself invoke a summer night of world class football which is fitting since the advertisement was released in the run up to the 2002 World Cup: “Baby close your eyes and listen to the music/Drifting through a summer breeze”. Lets also not forget that two of the three footballers on the winning team from the advert—Thierry Henry and Francesco Totti—are still playing; Henry is in the USA with Red Bull New York while Totti continues to turn back the clock for his only club, AS Roma.

 

Take It To The Next Level (2008)

Directed by Guy Ritchie

For More Please See: http://www.72andsunny.com/work/nike/next-level

And: http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/top-10-soccer-commercials-ever-made-130585?page=2

Featuring: Wayne Rooney, Arsene Wenger, Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marco Materazzi, Ronaldinho, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wesley Sneijder and others including much of Arsenal’s 2008 squad.

Music: Eagles of Death Metal “Don’t Speak”

This advertisement is up there simply because it is a tour de force of football and filmmaking simultaneously. This advert is shot entirely in the first person; we are put in the shoes of an aspiring Dutch footballer who is signed to Arsenal. We follow him through his own eyes as he gets his kits from the equipment manager at Arsenal and is humbled on his first substitute appearance by the likes of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United (Remember, both United and Arsenal’s kits at the time were—and still are—made by Nike). We follow the young footballer back to the training ground where he works hard—even vomiting from the effort—to become a top class footballer.

Guy Ritchie’s directorial acumen shows through when the kiss of a team-mate celebrating a game winning goal gives way to a kiss from a beautiful lady friend, transporting us from the on-pitch world of a professional European footballer to the glitz and glamour of European nights off the pitch. The excesses mean some failure on the pitch, of course (including a lost tooth) before more training ground work pays off for an amazingly struck free kick goal for the Dutch national team in what we assume to be the World Cup. Truly an inspiring and at times humorous three and a half minutes in keeping with Nike’s epic style.

 

Match In Hell/Good Vs. Evil (1996, For the UEFA European Championship in England)

Featuring: Eric Cantona, Paulo Maldini, Luis Figo, Ian Wright, Jorge Campos, Patrick Kluivert, Thomas Brolin, Rui Costa, Ronaldo.

This simply has to make the list if only because of the two (!) lines of dialogue. We are presented with a team of world football superstars from the era competing in a match in hell (Hell Trafford—perhaps a nod to Manchester United’s ill-fated trip to the “Hell” of Galatasaray’s Ali Sami Yen Stadium?? I don’t know . . .). In any case our superstars—including the faded star Thomas Brolin—are roughed up by a few undead footballers before coming into their own and defeating them with a hard shot by non other than Eric Cantona. Paulo Maldini’s immortal “Maybe they’re friendly?” could only be eclipsed by Cantona’s classic “Au Revoir” as he flips the collar on his shirt up in a way that only Cantona could.

For me the best part of this clearly “period” advertisement is that Nike had not yet taken a strangle hold on the brands presented in their advert—in the months leading up to Euro 1996 industrial football was still in its early stages. The team of “world all-stars” wear the shirts they’re famous for. Brolin is in Parma’s classic Puma kit and Figo carries Barcelona’s Kappa shirt while Cantona wears the Umbro kit United made famous.

 

Airport 90 (1998, For FIFA World Cup in France)

Featuring: Brazil’s 1998 World Cup Squad.

Music: Sergio Mendes “Mas Que Nada”

This is—judging by many of the lists I’ve perused—another favorite, and rightly so. Before the “Secret Tournament” made “A Little More Conversation” famous Airport 90 made Sergio Mendes’ “Mas Que Nada” famous. The advert features Brazil’s World Cup squad—the one that would finish runners up to France in the summer—making the most of a flight delay. Ronaldo, who was the darling of the football world at the time, is the most prominent star in this clip while Roberto Carlos and Denilson appear alongside him. This video evokes times of a more relaxed airport atmosphere, before the draconian measures that came into force in airports worldwide following the tragedies of September 11, 2001.

 

Write The Future (2010, for the FIFA World Cup in South Africa)

Directed by Alejandro Iñárritu

Featuring: Didier Drogba, Fabio Cannavaro, Wayne Rooney, Lassana Diarra, Theo Walcott, Patrice Evra, Franck Ribery, Tim Howard, Landon Donovan, Jeremy Toulalan, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Thiago Silva, Luis Fabiano, Ronaldinho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Andre Oojier AND Roger Federer, Kobe Bryant, Homer Simpson.

Music: Focus “Hocus Pocus”

Write The Future is along the lines of 2008’s Take It To The Next Level—it is, after all, a sequel. Unlike most sequels, however, this one more than holds its own. It chronicles two different outcomes of England’s future based on Wayne Rooney’s performance. He fails to stop Franck Ribery and France win, while the English stock market crashes and Rooney is reduced to a groundskeeper living in a trailer park. He stops Ribery and England win, the stock market goes sky high and babies across England are being named Wayne. Never mind that reality is somewhere between the two outcomes, its still an amusing advertisement. Perhaps the most realistic outcome is that concerning Cristiano Ronaldo—his star has only risen six years on.

As for a mention on the shirts in this advertisement note that Rooney is sporting the double diamond of Umbro in this Nike advert—since, at that point, Nike had bought Umbro. As a double dose of the globalization of world football Kobe Bryant also has a prominent cameo in this ad, along with the “like” button of social media. I can’t help but be thankful that social media made no appearance in Take It To The Next Level.

 

The Mission 90 (2000, For the UEFA European Championship in Belgium/Netherlands)

Featuring: Edgar Davids, Oliver Bierhoff, Hidetoshi Nakata, Luis Figo, Francesco Totti, Lilian Thuram, Josep Guardiola, Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole, and Louis Van Gaal.

This is one of the last of the Nike advertisements that didn’t go full-scale into the global marketing of the game. Like the 2002 Secret Tournament ad the players do not sport the shirts of their individual teams—as such, the cast is open to footballers regardless of the teams they may play for. The plot is someone sensationalist, similar to 1996’s Match In Hell. The players are attempting to retrieve a ball because it is “rounder”, according to mission leader Louis van Gaal. Indeed, this is the match ball for the 2000 European Championships. The stars proceed to battle cyborg samurais before escaping with their bounty before the building explodes as the advert ends. Normal stuff, right?

 

My Time Is Now (2012, For the UEFA European Championship in Poland/Ukraine)

Featuring: Franck Ribery, Cristiano Ronaldo, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Wesley Sneijder, Mesut Ozil, Neymar, and others—including . . . Lebron James??

Music: The Eighties Matchbox B Line Disaster “Chicken”

I rank this video last in my hierarchy of Nike football advertisements for many reasons. First of all, it is pretty ridiculous. Sure, many of the previous adverts listed here were ridiculous in their own right but please, hear me out. In this clip there seems to be no cohesive plot, and it seems to be a glorified pitch invasion. Having witnessed one such unfortunate event myself it doesn’t sit well with me to support such defamations of the game. Also, the blatant advertising put forth my Nike in this ad disappointed me. Yes, it is an advertisement for Nike, but please—don’t ram that down the viewer’s throats so crudely!

The fictional match is between Holland and France—both in Nike kits—while the players streaming onto the pitch are sporting Nike’s training line of apparel. As if all of that weren’t enough, Lebron James makes an appearance—a gross representation of the global advertising motives of Nike. I would have been much happier if a football goalkeeper made the “save” that James makes in this video since, well, it’s a football video! Nike chose to have Kobe Bryant return in this year’s Winner Takes All as the resident American sports star. While it is still a weird blurring of sport lines for money making purposes that makes me uncomfortable, at least Bryant has a history with the game of soccer as I mentioned earlier. I’m not sure of any similar natural associations that Lebron James has with football (other than his part-ownership of Liverpool, which is in the business realm).