The Standout Inbetweener; Zlatan Ibrahimović | A Legend That Transcends Era’s

Zlatan(Auditions)Zlatan(G)

#TheHistorian

In an age where every generation seems to be blessed with its fair share of diversely gifted attacking talents, cut from a different cloth, and playing football with a grace that seems to constantly defy so many other lesser talented players; the most painful thing about hearing someone mention their top 5 best strikers of the last decade, is having to cringe at the constant omission of one name, Zlatan Ibrahimović. Zlatan is a true rebel in an age of conformists, a natural born striker capable of conjuring sheer magic with a football, or a piece of bubblegum.

The Zlatan can be said to have been largely unfortunate to have been doing such wonders at the end of the Raúl, Ronaldo, Alessandro Del Piero , Andriy Shevchenko, Samuel Eto’o, Michael Owen and Thierry Henry years; while his career also spanned into the dawn of another golden age, where the outrageous talents of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Robin van Persie, Sergio Agüero, David Villa, Robert Lewandowski and Luis Suárez have rightfully been the centre of all football related conversations in terms of premier level goalscorers and forwards. Sweden’s all-time leading goalscorer, with 62 goals, Zlatan deserves special mention for remaining true to his unique skill-set, and ensuring that his arrogance rather fuelled his drive, instead of it hampering the realisation of his unlimited potential; a league champion, and lethal marksman, in every country he has played in, all while having rejected the chance to trial for Arsenal with the lure of developing under the wing of legendary youth development expert Arsene Wenger as a teenager, rebuffing the offer with a simple statement, “No way, Zlatan doesn’t do auditions’, prior to signing for another club steeped in a culture of nurturing young talent, AFC Ajax.

Zlatan Ibrahimović is a man in a class all by himself, one I would never dare to compare to any player in any era, for obvious reasons; not enough will ever be written about one of the greatest strikers ever to play the game of football, which is saying quite a bit, when we consider all that has been writ about him since his teenage years. The legacy of the man can never be truly quantified in words, because “gratefully-enigmatic” and “gracefully-eclectic” do not begin to describe him in his entirety, his impressive career numbers, in various elite level leagues, would quickly be surpassed in the near future, when we look at the career trajectory of the Messi’s, Cristiano’s and Neymar’s of this world; yet a goal getter that became the first man to score for six different clubs in Europe’s most elite competition, the UEFA Champions League, while also having been on a streak of nine straight league title wins in three different countries, with four different clubs of high esteem, has to go down as a genuine legend of the game in both the era’s he thrived in.

The brilliance of Zlatan Ibrahimović, is that he managed to work himself into the history books of football in a time when world-class forwards were playing the beautiful game the way it ought to be played, beautifully; his ability to shine amongst such fierce competition is highly laudable, considering how he could easily have been the premier striker in a different age. Since his arrival at Ajax Amsterdam in 2001, as a promising young player, from Malmö FF in his country of birth, Sweden, Ibracadabra has woven his magic in the elite leagues of Europe terrorising defenders and ‘keepers alike, all while displaying his skills against some of the most lethal goal scorers to ever play the game of football; the cream truly rises to the top, and Zlatan has remained at the top of his game throughout his career. The fact that he netted the bulk of his goals, 148 in all competitions for Juventus, A.C. & Inter Milan, in one of the toughest defensive leagues ever, the Italian Serie A, is a living testament to the deadliness of the man; any striker that can net over 100 goals in Italy deserves to be recognised as a truly great finisher, and a pretty good forward to boot.

Zlatan has mastered his craft, a player who actually got to fully develop his game and truly fall in love with his skills, in the midst of the media frenzy that has surrounded him since his formative years, something we’ve seen countless talented lads continually fail to do; The Zlatan will surely retire from playing professional football sooner rather than later, now that he is at the end of his peak as an elite level striker, and entering the twilight years of his glorious career, although 3 Golden Boot awards in his 4 Ligue 1 seasons shows that he is still an asset upfront for any team. The true legacy of Zlatan Ibrahimović should not be understated, nor should the demeanour of the man be misunderstood or used against him when speaking on his greatness, or his illustrious career.

The arrogance comes from an understanding of one’s true abilities, and a burning desire to make the utmost of those gifts; the outrageous God given abilities aside, the swagger of a Michael Jordan on the court, the nerves of a Roger Federer in a tournament final, the desire to constantly achieve greatness of a Tony Hawk regardless of the conditions & the confidence in self of a Muhammad Ali regardless of the circumstances or the opposition, all point to a man with the makeup of a true champion, and an all round legend of the sport we all love. There may never be another player as talented, confident and enigmatic as The Zlatan has been, and I am honestly happy with those odds; Bob’s your Grandmothers last born son, the world has been blessed enough to have had one Zlatan Ibrahimović, the foremost football inbetweener, living proof that a well balanced mixture of confidence & arrogance can always fuel undoubted ability, when channelled right.

Ball Don’t Lie (The Numbers)

Club Spell/s Appearances Goals Assists Goal Ratio
Malmö FF September 1999 – July 2001 40 16 N/A 0.4
AFC Ajax July 2001 – August 2004 108 47 15 0.4
Juventus F.C. August 2004 – August 2006 92 26 6 0.3
Inter Milan August 2006 – July 2009 117 66 30 0.6
FC Barcelona July 2009 – June 2011 47 22 14 0.5
A.C. Milan August 2010 – May 2011 (Loan) & June 2011 – July 2012 85 56 24 0.7
Paris Saint-Germain F.C. July 2012 – July 2016 180 156 61 0.9
Totals   669 389 150 0.6
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The Garish Gerard Deulofeu, A Coming of Age Story

GeriDeulofeu(Wunderkind)
A Wunderkind Destined For Greatness | Gerard Deulofeu
GeriDeulofeu(SpainU19)
The Golden Player In A Golden Generation | Gerard Deulofeu

The football marvel nicknamed Geri by the Everton faithful was first introduced to many of us as “the next big thing out of La Masia”, when he inked a personal endorsement deal with Nike at the tender age of 14, Gerard Deulofeu seems to have been a promising talent on the peripheral of a breakthrough campaign forever and a day; many purists begun to wonder if he could indeed overcome the pitfalls that befell the last 14 year old football prodigy to have a Nike contract. Much like Freddy Adu before him, Geri went on to make his professional debut as a teenager, after showing great promise and technical dexterity in the youth ranks; Barcelona’s success-rate at nurturing young talent and the institutions holistic approach to youth development may have given Geri an advantage over many of his peers, yet his talent alone stood him head and shoulders above his age mates from day one.

A Catalonia born and bred wunderkind, Geri joined the Barcelona youth team structures in 2003 as a nine year old prodigy who had spent hours breaking vases in his mothers living room when he wasn’t on the village football pitch honing his ball skills; the progression of a player that stood out amongst fellow young starlets at La Masia was swift and remarkable, as scouts and journalists begun to rave about his outstanding potential and remarkable ability with the ball at his feet. Geri’s early gradation from youth cadet to professional came as little surprise to those who had been monitoring his impressive progress, making his Barcelona B debut as a 75th minute substitute on March 2nd, 2011; the then 16 year old protégé seemed destined for a great future in the Blaugrana colours. Promotion into Pep Guardiola’s star studded 1st team came later on in 2011 as he featured on the bench while continuing his acclimatisation into the first team setup; Geri continued to play regularly for the B side in the Segunda Division as he steadily added more dimension to his attacking game and regularly became a scorer or provider of goals and jaw-dropping YouTube videos.

Gerard excelled for the Barça B side and the Spanish youth teams during 2011 and 2012, when he cemented his undeniable status as one of the most gifted footballers in his blessed generation by being crowned as the Golden Player, an award handed to the player of the tournament, at the 2012 UEFA European u-19 Championship; Deulofeu’s great form and steady development was rewarded when he seemed to have his long-term Barcelona future cemented with a 5 year contract inked on May 15th, 2013. Barça seemed intent to fast track the development of a very precious talent when they agreed to loan him to Everton for the 2013/14 season on July 10th; the loan was seen as the perfect opportunity for the lad to play more competitive football in a team that shares a similar playing ideology to that taught to youngsters at La Masia. Showing glimpses of his great potential during his 25 games in the Everton blue, Geri seemed to thrive under the tutelage of a fellow Catalonian, Roberto Martinez, and his performances alerted all and sundry to the fact that he had more than enough ability to play at the elite level and develop into a genuine superstar, in time.

The loan spell appeared to have served its purpose for the player, and many expected him to return to Barça and play a significant role in the new Luis Enrique project. Included in the 1st team squad in May 2014, Gerard found himself packing his bags for another season-long loan spell on August 14th as Barça reached an agreement with Sevilla. The decision to loan out a talented young player to a league rival baffled many onlookers, and the player himself; the deal proved to be an unsuccessful one for all parties and it came as no surprise when Spanish newspaper Marca named him in their “Worst Team of the Season” during his stay with the Andalusians, Geri played 17 times and got a return of just one goal for his inconsistent form and irregular appearances, his only goal in the Spanish top flight thus far.

It was baffling to see how the stock of such a talented young footballer could fall in less than 12 months; Barcelona, under Enrique, seemed to have other players in mind to provide cover for their star studded attacking unit and Gerard now seemed surplus to requirements at a club he captained at youth level, a club he seemed destined to play for since his birth in the little village of Riudarenes. Deulofeu had his misery ended by a manager who still believed that he was indeed one of the most gifted young footballers on the planet, signing a 3 year deal with the Toffees for a relatively bargain fee of £4.2m in May of 2015. The deal itself remains a complex one, Barcelona hold buy-back clauses for the first two years of his contract, meaning that they can buy him back for an agreed £6.3m after the culmination of the current campaign or pay £8.3m to lure him back at the end of next season. Everton will also enjoy a significant share of any profit Barcelona would garner from buying him back with the intention of using their powerhouse status to sell him on for a larger asking price in the near future, the Toffees would also have first option on the player if Barcelona were to buy him back and look to sell him on as well. Such terms would have been deemed unfeasible by many ambitious clubs looking to add to their side, but all parties needed the deal to go through; Barça needed their protégé to move to a club where he could develop further, while Everton knew that they would be signing a young player who could add immense value to their galaxy of young stars, Geri needed to be at a club where he felt wanted and appreciated for his great gifts.

If one did not know any better, you would think that Gerard Deulofeu was a seasoned campaigner in danger of wasting his best years as a pro; although he seems to have been on the scene since before many had heard of a Neymar Jr., the 21 year old technician has only just entered the final phase of his developmental process and his overall game could reach FIFA Ballon d’Or contender level once he reaches his apex. Modern football and its advancements have combined to make it even harder for the truly special young talents to fully develop before being judged alongside finished articles; Geri may have been fortunate to get his permanent move to Everton after a failed loan stint with Sevilla, yet the lad deserves all the good favour and grace coming his way for the manner in which he departed from his childhood club.

The 2015-16 season has been a notable one for revivals and rebuilding for many clubs, players, managers and fans alike, the resurgence of one of the premier young talents in Europe has coincided with the return to form of many Everton starlets; the Fantastic Four young stars have been to credit for much of Everton’s resurgence, John Stones seems to grow in stature with every solid performance, while the attacking trio of Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu has combined to amaze and enthral many onlookers with their determined and driven displays further up field. Geri has already gone about proving his worth to the club with 7 of Romelu Lukaku’s 13 strikes thus far coming from the man “The Animal” has amply nicknamed “The Supplier”. Flair players with great ability often need to feel loved and appreciated by those around them, it is that confidence which fuels their creativity & desire to perform at a high level consistently; Gerard has felt loved at Everton since his 1st stint at the club & his swift acclimatisation was aided by his desire to pay back the faith Everton have invested in him, twice. So far, so good for a lad that is fast becoming a terrace favourite with his electrifying runs and telling contribution on both ends of the field; 3 goals and 10 assists in all competitions already this season should have Barcelona faxing over an offer to Goodison Park sooner rather than later.

Gerard Deulofeu

Bio

Full Name: Gerard Deulofeu Lázaro

DoB: March 13th, 1994 (21)

PoB: Riudarenes, Girona; Catalonia, Spain

Other Nationality: Catalonian

Height: 1, 77m

Position: Winger, Advanced Playmaker, Inside Forward, Advanced Forward, Trequartista (Left/Right/Centre)

Preferred Foot: Right

Current Club: Everton FC

Club Jersey No: #19

Contract Expiry: June 30th, 2018

Youth Development Nests: Penya Esportiva Bons Aires, FC Barcelona

Former Clubs: FC Barcelona B (2011-2013), FC Barcelona (2011-2015), Everton (2013-2014; Loan), Sevilla (2014-2015; Loan)

Market Value: £4.3m

Career Club Record: 147 Games; 37 Goals; 30 Assists

Caps & Goals: Spain (1 Cap); Catalonia (1 Cap); Spain u/16 (4 Caps, 1 Goal); u/17 (21 Caps, 6 Goals); u/19 (19 Caps, 5 Goals); u20 (7 Caps, 3 Goals); u/21 (24 Caps, 13 Goals)

Honours: La Liga Winner (2012-13, Barcelona); UEFA Europa League Winner (2014-15, Sevilla); UEFA European u-19 Championship Winner (2011, 2012); UEFA European u-17 Championship Runner-Up (2010) & UEFA European u-19 Championship Golden Player (2012)

Next Best Thing; Barcelona’s Boisterous Croat Blonde Bombshell

Alen Halilovic (Barcelona No: 23)
Alen Halilovic (Barcelona No: 23)
Alen Halilovic (Croat Superstar)
Alen Halilovic (Croat Superstar)

In a world where the “next best thing” is always a hot commodity, one cannot describe how pleasant it is to browse the papers over a pint skimming through an article about the next exciting football prospect worth going down to the betting store over and putting down some Randela’s on them becoming top class internationals. Now very few of these protégés end up becoming the greats they were hyped up to be by the glowing reviews, as my bookmakers bank balance will attest to; but the journeys  I have undergone tracking many of these young players has been worth every single penny scraped into a bet.

#TheTalentScout

For the last decade and some change, Croatian football seems to churn out talented wunderkinds by the season, players that have the rest of the football fraternity scampering to catch a glimpse of the latest hot talent to come out of a developmentally fertile land. One of the main reasons for this is that fact that Croatia is home to one of the most structured football academies in our beautiful game, the academy wing of GNK Dinamo Zagreb is an institution that prides itself on developing top class young talent to sell off to the bigger leagues in Europe while pocketing handsome transfer fees. In order to be so successful in this business model, the institution has to be producing players of a high calibre that have the potential to grow into established stars wherever they land up, attracting the attentions of top sides across the fraternity while barely in their teens and ensuring that the conveyor belt keeps brining us elite level ready talents to salivate over.

One of the best footballers to come out of this thriving institution is an 18 year old blond bangs having attacking mastermind who has been setting the football fraternity ablaze since the age of 15. Alen Halilović is an ultra talented young footballer that has all the natural gifts to become the next best young footballer to set the La Liga alight, having moved to FC Barcelona on May 2nd 2014, shortly after his 18th birthday, the young magician has been earning rave reviews in the FC Barcelona B-Team since his arrival and it is only a matter of time before he becomes a first team fixture in the star packed attacking unit that aims to play football the right way; considering the average age of that legendary midfield, Alen seems to be in the prime position at the right club for him to fulfil his potential and exceed even his own wildest expectations.

A record setting and breaking young lad, Alen is the youngest ever goal scorer in the Croatian Prva HNL after he scored his first league goal for the side while aged 16 years and 112 days. At 16 years of age, he was also the youngest ever debutant for Croatian national team, a feat that made many more football lovers in our fraternity sit up and take note of the lad and his prodigious abilities. Halilović made his first team debut for GNK Dinamo Zagreb as an 18th minute sub in the 3-1 Eternal Derby victory over HNK Hajduk Split on September 27th of 2012, breaking a record set by fellow teammate and GNK Dinamo Zagreb graduate the boisterous regista Mateo Kovačić; that record was broken by another GNK Dinamo Zagreb graduate, Fran Brodić, who came on as an 85th minute sub against NK Inter Zaprešić aged 16 years 3 months and 6 days, Alen has 16 years and 101 days old when he broke the previous record. Yet it does not stop there, Halilović is also the youngest Champions League debutant in the history of GNK Dinamo Zagreb and the 2nd youngest in the history of the illustrious competition, behind legendary Nigerian left fullback Céléstine Babayaro who set the record in the 94/95 campaign, after he appeared for GNK Dinamo Zagreb in the Group Stages of the Champions League on October 24th, 2012.

Prior to agreeing his career defining move to La Masia, Alen starred for Croatia as they narrowly missed out on a semi-final berth at the 2013 UEFA u/17 Championship in Slovakia, the Croatians were unfortunate to lose out after the top 3 teams in the group, Russia and Italy being the others, were all tied on 5 points. Russia went onto win their 3rd title but Alen Halilović had won over the hearts of many admirers with his breathtaking dribbling abilities and the vision of a far more mature trequartista.

The former Croatia u/14, u/15, u/16, u/17 and u/18 international has gone to La Masia to further his development as a talented wunderkind; adapting to the structure and style of a big team like FC Barcelona is not an easy task as their playing ideology is steadfast and even the most talented of footballers have struggled to adapt to the pressures of acclimatising to playing the Barça way. The Barcelona B-Team no: 23 has been rumoured to be upset by the fact that he has been playing at a level that he seems to have out-grown, yet his representatives have settled the young lad very well and there seems to be a concise plan for his development at FC Barcelona and its pivotal for all interested parties to ensure that the lad stays grounded and continues to develop at a steady rate. The son of former Bosnia and Herzegovina skipper Sejad Halilović, who is an GNK Dinamo youth academy coach, has all the opportunity and ability to grow into one of the finest players ever to grace the lavish Camp Nou pitch and possibly even prove that he is a worthy heir to the throne currently occupied by Andrés Iniesta as the conductor of one of football’s most beautiful orchestras; some may say it is too early to call it but Alen Halilović is a definite star in the making and Bobs your ujak.

Bio

Full Name: Alen Halilović

DoB: June 18th, 1996 (18)

PoB: Dubrovnik, Croatia

Height: 1, 70m

Position: Attacking Midfielder, Advanced Playmaker, Trequartista

Club: FC Barcelona

Contract Expiry: June 30th, 2019

Market Value: € 5m

Career Club Record: 84 Games, 11 Goals & 5 Assists

Caps & Goals: Croatia u/14 {2 Caps, 1 Goal}, Croatia u/15 {6 Caps, 3 Goals}, Croatia u/16 {4 Caps, 1 Goals}, Croatia u/17 {10 Caps, 2 Goals}, Croatia u/18 {3 Caps, 1 Goal}, Croatia u/21 {1 Cap}, Croatia {7 Caps}