There are days when the world seems to go mad – and the aftermath of the Sweden v England game was certainly one of those. By scoring four times against English opposition – including a goal seen by some as the ‘greatest ever’, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has suddenly, apparently, proven wrong all the critics who have seen him underperform time and again. Obviously lots of people were hallucinating.
Ibrahimovic is, of course, a classic enigma. Described by Martin O’Neill as “The most over-rated player on the planet” and regarded others as a superstar, the Swede has played so many poor games against English opposition down the years and missed so many chances it is hard to believe the same player was the one who scored that spectacular bicycle kick, albeit one that hardly bears comparison with the wonder volleys of Van Basten in 1988 or Zidane in 2002 – both of which came in games of incomparably greater importance.
But debates about an enigmatic player who can swing from brilliant to awful depending what side of bed he got out of can conveniently distract from issue surrounding another individual whose talent is undoubted, but whose performances often fail to back it up.
Joe Hart has sometimes come in for unjustified criticism, not least after Manchester City’s 3-2 defeat against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu. On that occasion, pundits harshly blamed him for two of the goals even though his performance was an outstanding one – unlike those in front of him who turned the City goalmouth into something resembling a coconut shy.
However one of those critics – Roy Keane – suggested there were signs that Hart was crossing what he called “a fine line between being confident and cocky” this season, suggesting a lack of competition at club and country level threatens to leave him in a comfort zone where standards drop. It may just be Keane has a point.
There have undoubtedly been moments when Hart has been at fault for some of the goals he has conceded this season. This is true of any keeper but for one aiming for the top the tally has been concerning. He was at fault for two of the Ibrahimovic strikes and also for Tottenham’s goal at the Etihad last Sunday.
Perhaps help is at hand, if not at City then at least for England. Celtic keeper Fraser Forster is another man who has been busy in the Champions League, but his recent sensational, match-winning performances against Barcelona suggest that Hart may be anything but the automatic choice between the posts for England over the coming decade.
That may be all for the good, and ultimately act as the catalyst for Hart to focus and work hard on his development. After all, he might reflect that the last thing any player wants to do is end up being someone who divides opinion among fans, pundits and managers like Ibrahimovic has.