Euro 2016: Will this be a fairytale swansong for three national legends?
There is no disputing the fact that just like in any other sphere of life, the world of sports also needs heroes to enhance its appeal, reach and popularity amongst the masses. That one supremely gifted individual that stands out amongst the crowd- first among equals as they say. These individuals through their performances and sometimes even by their added maverick personalities have often handed us a heady combination and have ensured that their respective sport is not starved of talent and fan-following for generations to come.
The sport of football too, even after being the most popular sport on the planet, has benefited immensely over the years because of what these heroes have brought to the game. Most have gone on to acquire legendary status in their respective countries and are admired and feted by their countrymen for centuries and more.
The mercurial Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Sweden, the maverick Robbie Keane of Ireland and the untiring Eidur Gudjohnsen of Iceland, are three such national legends who would be coming to Euro 2016, mindful of the fact that this could well be their swansong. That one final opportunity to enthral their beloved home fans and to make their national flag fly high with pride on a truly global stage.
A fitting end to ‘Zlatan’ about
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, or just Zlatan to his fans in Sweden, was recently voted as the country’s greatest ever sportsman after tennis legend Bjorn Borg. That’s how big he is at home. Pushing 35, Ibrahimovic is the only player in the world to have won 13 championship titles in four different leagues across Europe. The Swedish captain is not only the country’s most capped player but its highest ever goal scorer as well with 62 international goals to his credit.
A maverick both on and off the field, Ibra, as his fans around the globe refer to him as, will know that two years from now if his national team qualifies for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, his best might be past him by then. His participation in the upcoming Rio 2016 Summer Olympics is also not confirmed as yet and the world’s best players anyway do not participate in it given its limit of allowing only three players above the age of 23 per team.
So Euro 2016 should definitely see Ibra at his very best. And if his best means a FIFA Goal of the year, which he won for his outrageous bicycle kick goal against England in 2013, then you would not want to miss this former Juventus, Barcelona and Paris St. German stalwart for anything under the sun.
Robbie ‘Keane’ to deliver even at 35
Robbie Keane, the 35-year old captain and striker of the Republic of Ireland, is another player who would be eager to make a mark for his country at Euro 2016. Ireland are not playing the sport at the Olympics and the World Cup is still far away with qualifications yet to start. So, Keane will know that this is as close as it gets to his last appearance in Ireland colours on a world footballing stage.
A lot of you would be surprised to know, that Robbie’s 67 international goals, today make him the world’s highest goal scorer among all playing international footballers. The former Tottenham Hotspur and Leeds United striker would be eager to add to that tally and extend his record as much as possible.
A true legend back home in Ireland, Keane was part of a golden generation of Irish footballers which won several continental championships at the junior and youth levels. Keane also led his country through an impressive World Cup campaign back in 2002, when on the back of his three goals, Ireland held the powerful Germany in the group stages and then went on to hold Spain in regulation and extra-time during the round of 16.
They eventually lost out on penalties but Keane had earned his feathers as a world class footballer by the end of it.
‘Eidur’ boom or bust for Gudjohnsen
The tireless 37-year old Eidur Gudjohnsen does not captain his Iceland team anymore. The former Chelsea and Barcelona striker also plies his trade in Norway nowadays, far from the limelight of the English and Spanish leagues he once used to prowl. But for the football fans of Iceland, he is a legend beyond compare.
This year would mark his 20th year in the Iceland jersey, a long journey traversed since he made his debut replacing his own father as a substitute, of all people. Gudjohnsen is not only his country’s highest ever goal scorer with 26 goals till date, but also probably their most recognisable international celebrity.
Given his age, Euro 2016 would certainly be Gudjohnsen’s last appearance on the world stage for his country. He has won 13 titles at the club level so far, including three league titles in two countries as well as the Champions League crown back in the 2008-9 season with Barcelona. Boy, wouldn’t he be looking for a fairytale swansong in national colours.
All three footballers discussed in this piece have nothing to prove and have been super ambassadors both for the game as well as for their countries. And there is only one team that will scale the summit at Euro 2016 as always. All that we worshippers of the game hope for however, is that these legends give us some more of those magical moments on the field, before bidding their final goodbyes to the game they have loved all their lives and made richer by their presence.