Alexander Isak recently celebrated his seventh birthday by scoring two goals in the Stockholm derby as AIK’s beat city rivals Djurgården 3-0. His performance was greeted, at the end of the game, by a chorus of happy birthday from 8,000 travelling fans. This isn’t the first time that the fans have sang his name, and it certainly won’t be the last.

The Stockholm native scored on his first team debut on 28th February 2016, when he came on as a 75th-minute substitute in the Svenska Cupen against Tenhults IF.

Isak made his full league debut 37 days later against Östersund and partnered fell debutante Carlos Strandberg in attack. Five minutes into the second half, the then 16-year-old scored the decisive second goal. The goal resulted in him making the headlines as he became the youngest ever scorer in Allsvenskan history at the age of 16 years and 199 days.

Since making his debut, Iask has become a regular fixture in the AIK team and has gone on to score six league goals so far this season. This has resulted in a host of top European sides, including Barcelona, Bayern, Liverpool and Real Madrid, scouting the striker who has been dubbed the new Ibrahimović by teammate Chinedu Obasi.

Obasi told Fotbollskanalen: “He is a great talent. He has great potential, and I absolutely believe that he will go far. I do not want to say too much, but I think he has much potential. If he has the drive and continues, I think he can become Sweden’s next Ibrahimović. He has the potential; everyone can see it, and he proves it all the time.”

Due to his height (190cm), position and nationality, you can understand the comparisons.

The Swedish media have closely been following Isak since he made his debut and have tipped him for a call-up to the national team. This is understandable as he is an exciting talent. They are also seeking a new star for their national team after Ibrahimović’s retirement from international football following Sweden’s disappointing exit at Euro 2016.

The last teenage star to emerge from Scandinavia, Martin Ødegaard, made similar headlines before vanishing into obscurity after joining Real Madrid. This is something Isak will be well aware of, and therefore his next move will be crucial as he looks to continue his rapid rise in Swedish football.


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The UEFA Euro 2016 group stage came to an end in dramatic fashion as Portugal, Iceland, Belgium and Republic of Ireland secured their places in the knockout phase. It brought us a number of extraordinary performances with a host of players stepping up for their nations. However, we also had the opportunity to see experienced footballers ruining their countries’ hopes of advancing with their below-par and even dreadful performances. 

What follows is the combined lineup of the players who let down their nations in the Euro 2016 group stage.

Goalkeeper: David de Gea (Spain)

David de Gea beats Salvatore Sirigu for the goalkeeping position in our flop XI.

The Spaniard had little problems in the first two matches as he watched his team dominate proceedings against the lowly Turkey and the Czech Republic. It was Croatia that put his abilities to a proper test for the first time in the tournament – and he failed miserably.

His needless dribbling left Rakitic with a glorious chance to score early on, but the Croatian could only find the crossbar. Went on to concede two goals at the near post, both of which could have been easily avoided.

Right-back: Aleksandar Dragovic (Austria)

Dragovic may just be the worst flop of the tournament. The Austrian defender was sent off in the first game which Austria promptly lost to Hungary and then had to sit out the stalemate with Portugal. He returned to the starting lineup in the Austria’s final Euro 2016 match, but he once again played a huge part in his team’s demise, missing a crucial penalty against Iceland.

Center-back: Lorik Cana (Albania)

Similar to Dragovic, Lorik Cana will want to forget this tournament as soon as possible. The Albanian captain started eagerly, perhaps too eagerly, since he was sent off after he picked up two yellow cards in the opening 30 minutes. He had to sit out the second match and was left out of the starting XI in the third-round game against Romania that his team dully won 1-0.

Center-back: Ricardo Carvalho (Portugal)

Considering the fact that Ricardo Carvalho turned 38 recently, it is hardly surprising to see him included in the worst XI. Portugal may have had the luck to avoid tougher opponents in the group stage and their defence was rarely tested, but once the knockout stage starts, they may be in serious trouble. If Hungary found a way to exploit Carvalho’s shortcomings, you can bet others will do the same.

Left-back: Viacheslav Shevchuk (Ukraine)

The Shakhtar left-back embodies Ukraine’s failure to adapt amidst a generational switch in the national team. His reluctance to go forward and inability to deal with opposing attackers left the Ukraine unable to compete on either front on the left side of the pitch. A tournament to forget not only for Shevchuk, but the entire Ukraine.

Right midfielder: Arda Turan (Turkey)

Arda Turan came into the tournament as the biggest name in the Turkey squad, but delivered very little.  His performance against Croatia was particularly troubling – not only did he struggle to create chances for his teammates, but he was also unable to get himself into dangerous spaces. In the end, he simply passed the ball around until the agony was over. Although his next performances were somewhat better, he was still far from his usual best.

Central midfielder: Roman Neustadter (Russia)

Roman Neustadter famously received his Russian passport merely months before the tournament as Russia tried to prepare itself for the UEFA Euro 2016. However, Neustadter was virtually invisible on the pitch, much like the rest of the Russian midfield. We could perhaps forgive his inability to create chances for his teammates – he is a defensive midfielder after all – but the fact that he even failed to provide any sort of cover for his center-backs is simply unforgivable.

Left midfielder: Raheem Sterling (England)

Once again, Sterling produced a few dazzling performances, but failed to deliver. Frustratingly, his quick footwork regularly put him in good positions, but his final balls left a lot to be desired. Considering the wealth of talent available to Roy Hodgson, this tournament may already be over for the 21-year-old winger.

Right forward: Robert Lewandowski (Poland)

Lewandowski came into Euro 2016 as the focal point of the Polish attack, but he has so far failed his country. He was subdued throughout the tournament, but he even managed to miss the few good chances he was given. Unless he rediscovers his goalscoring form soon, Poland are as good as gone.

Center forward: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden)

Similar to Lewandowski, Ibrahimovic came into the tournament as his team’s star player, but he failed to produce virtually anything. He has decided to retire from international duty after Euro 2016, but considering his performances, one may as well assume he had given up even before the tournament started.

Left forward: Mario Gotze (Germany)

Despite rumors that he was unwanted in Bayern Munich, Gotze retained his starting spot in Die Mannschaft. However, the lack of playing time in Bayern appears to have left a devastating impact on Gotze, who practically acted as a passer-by in all three games so far.

About the author – Dusan Lucic

Dusan has been writing sports related articles for 5 years and has a keen interest in the Premier League, Bundesliga and Serbian SuperLiga. He has previously written for Bleacher Report, Arena Sport, Sportal and The News Hub. He is currently studying Serbian language and literature at the university of Belgrade.


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So the axe has finally fallen on Louis Van Gaal’s reign at Manchester United. The veteran Dutch tactician has cut a disgruntled and cantankerous figure in recent months, as he put up a defiant front against the growing reports suggesting his job was in jeopardy.

Van Gaal can point the finger of blame at the English press, who he claims have “already sacked me for six months”. He might blame the expectations of United’s fans, as he asserts it is unreasonable of them to think their team should be top-four certainties, let alone title challengers.

But ultimately, Van Gaal has fallen short of his primary objectives; last weekend’s FA Cup win – United’s first majory trophy of the post-Ferguson era – will allow him to leave with a measure of success, but failure to qualify for next season’s Champions League, coupled with the drab playing style he has produced, has seen to it that van Gaal will be ushered into early retirement.

And it would appear that the worst kept secret in football over the last six months is finally out: José Mourinho will be Manchester United manager next season.

Mourinho certainly doesn’t come without his fair share of caveats, but the 53-year-old former Chelsea and Real Madrid boss is a born winner who will back himself to bring the glory days back to old Trafford; there’ll be no complaints about expectations being too high from the outspoken Portuguese.

The squad that Van Gaal will bequeath to his former assistant is one of reasonable quality, but there are several players whose confidence seems to have taken a hit over the past season or two. Mourinho will have to assess which players he feels still have something to offer, and which members of the squad need to be moved on.

The likes of Memphis Depay, Ander Herrera and Morgan Schneiderlin have all had disappointing campaigns, but Mourinho will recognise that each can be restored to a level where they can be important cogs in the machine he is looking to build.

Juan Mata will be nervous to discover whether he has a future under Mourinho, after the Portuguese determined that Mata lacked the tactical discipline to fit in at Chelsea, despite the fact that the Spaniard was voted the club’s player of the year two seasons running.

Although he hasn’t pulled up any trees in his time with United, Mata has been a solid performer with a respectable goals and assists output (10 goals and eight assists from 52 appearances this season). Mourinho will have more pressing squad management issues to resolve before deciding what to do with Mata, so the former Valencia player may yet be given time to prove his worth.

There are three players in particular, however, that Mourinho should be looking to ship out of Old Trafford if he is to re-shape the current United squad.

England defender Phil Jones joined the Red Devils from Blackburn Rovers in 2011, when he was just 19 years old. Hailed as a future England captain, the versatile player’s Old Trafford career has been hampered by injury. Jones has averaged fewer than 20 Premier League appearances across his five seasons as a United player, and when he has played, he has often been shifted around between full-back, centre-back and central-midfield.

Jones, now 24, has suffered as a consequence of his position-shifting and, five years on, it is hard to point to any area of his game which has markedly improved since his £16.5m move from Blackburn.

Despite only having 13 appearances to his name all season, and having been out of the first-team picture since an injury in January, Jones was named among United’s substitutes for the FA cup final ahead of more deserving candidates such as youngsters Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Timothy Fosu-Mensah. Mourinho should now call time on Jones’s United career in favour of utilising some on the promising young defenders beginning to emerge.

Marouane Fellaini has produced some commendable performances during United’s triumphant cup run. But the Belgian falls some way short of the technical ability expected of a standout United midfielder. For all his physicality and aerial prowess – which in itself is somewhat overstated – he lacks the quality of passing and touch needed in a top-class player. His propensity to violently swing his elbows around has cost United of late, after retrospective punishment saw the former Everton player suspended for the final three league matches of the season. With reported interest from Roma and AC Milan, Mourinho should look to cash-in on David Moyes’s first signing as United boss.

The major positive credited to Van Gaal during his United reign has been his commitment to playing young players from the club’s academy. Marcus Rashford and Jessie Lingard have thrived since being given their first-team debut by the former Ajax manager. But any credit van Gaal earnt for blooding youngsters has been undermined by his readiness to drop some of them as soon as a more senior player becomes available.

The case in point here is how Marcos Rojo was preferred to either Borthwick-Jackson or Fosu-Mensah at left-back. The Argentinian has been a fixture since his return from mid-season injury, despite some utterly horrific performances. Mourinho will surely have witnessed Rojo’s abject form and can have only concluded that the former Spartak Moscow player is surplus to requirements.

In terms on incomings, it would appear that Mourinho has already identified several potential signings. Star names such as Zlatan Ibrahimović, James Rodríguez and Raphaël Varane have all been mentioned in speculative newspaper articles.

Mourinho will have highlighted the need for a new centre-back, a creative midfielder, right-winger and striker. And with United ready to back him in the transfer window to the tune of £200 million, the former Porto boss will undoubtedly be sifting through agent Jorge Mendes’s list of clients and contacts as though it were his own personal shopping catalogue.

For United fans, with the arrival of a new manager, and a potential cast of incoming players, the off-season stands to provide more entertainment than they’ve seen on the pitch for some time.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications. Ryan’s musings on European football can be found here. 

twitter: @RyanBaldiEFB


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This weekend Zlatan Ibrahimović scored four goals to help PSG seal the Ligue 1 title after a 9-0 demolition of Troyes. It’s the Parisians 4th league title in a row and it looks like that run will continue into the foreseeable future. It was also Zlatan’s 13th title in the past 15 seasons. This is a remarkable achievement and this success has come at 6 different clubs. In terms of domestic competition, simply put, there has been no more successful player than Zlatan since the term of the millennium.

Although he failed to win the Allsvenskan in his teenage years with Malmö, his first league title came at the age of 20 when Ajax won the 2001-02 Eredivisie. Another Eredivisie title followed in 2003-04 before he joined Juventus after the Euros. He went on to win two consecutive Serie A titles in 2004-05 and 2005-06 but the Italians were later stripped of these due to their involvement in the match-fixing scandal. Juventus were relegated to Serie B due to their involvement and Zlatan transferred to Inter.

Developing youth players in Soccer Manager Multiplayer (Worlds) is key

Inter emerged as the new powerhouse of Italian football after the match-fixing scandal and Zlatan went on to win three consecutive titles prior to transferring to Spanish giants Barcelona in 2009. The Swede only stayed in Catalonia for one season before returning to Italy on loan in 2010. However, in his one season in La Liga he won yet another title.

In his first season back in Italy he helped Milan secure their first Serie A title in 7 years. This was Zlatan’s eight domestic title in a row. He then joined the club on a permanent transfer but 2011-12 ended with no league medal for the first time in 9 years. Zlatan than joined PSG and helped them to end their 19 year drought as the Parisians won the 2012-13 Ligue 1 title. PSG followed up this success with two further titles in 2013-14 and 2014-15 and have just wrapped up their fourth consecutive title with 8 games to spare.

The Swede is out of contract this Summer and said jokingly that he would only stay if the club replace the Eiffel Tower with a statue of him. This isn’t likely to happen and it looks like the serial title winner has made his mind up and will leave the French capital in the coming months.


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CNN’s Pedro Pinto, one of the best commentators in world football, spoke to Zlatan Ibrahimovi? in 2013 just before Paris Saint-Germain played Barcelona in the quarter-finals of the Champions League; a tie that the Parisians ultimately lost.

Zlatan said, when asked if he was hard to work with, that when you got to know him, you would realise that life is plain sailing. “I am not difficult to work with … if I work for you, you need to convince me.”

He was respectful of his former teammate David Beckham, calling him “very elegant”, while of the two best players in European football, Messi’s talent “is natural”, Ronaldo is a “trained product”.

Zlatan seems a complete combination, and I am utterly convinced of his legacy as a true legend having watched a Canal+ documentary from 2013, which showed just how brilliant a star the French Ligue 1 has in Zlatan.

In this two-hour feast, there are songs in his name interspersed with Zlatan facts that make him sound like The Stig or Chuck Norris: ‘Zlatan is never off the game’s pace; it’s the others who are off Zlatan’s’; ‘Zlatan doesn’t turn with the ball; the stadium turns 180 degrees’; and, my favourite of all, ‘Zlatan left Spain, then Italy; when he did so, it was a disaster for those countries.’

There emerges, amongst the hagiography, a portrait of someone who is paid a lot of money to do something he is very good at: stick a ball in the net with any part of his body but his hand. He commands high transfer fees – some of the highest accumulated in history – and helps teams win titles. When he won the 2013 Ligue 1 championship for Paris Saint-Germain, it was a case of another medal for a room-sized cabinet.

Starting in Rosengård, where he now has a place of residence named after him, Zlatan moved from Malmö to Ajax at 19. After a troubled teenage upbringing, where his mother struggled to provide for the family, he quickly became the most promising talent in Swedish football since Henrik Larsson. That was despite being the son of Bosnian immigrants and facing a number of cultural and racial hurdles in his early years.

He began his Ajax career with Zlatan on his back, and now despite not having it on his shirt, people in Amsterdam still know him by that name. From an early age he was confident in his ability without being arrogant, perhaps the mark of a solid upbringing.

Every touch looks remarkable, especially for a man with such a high centre of gravity. Having impressed Ronald Koeman and Leo Beerhakker, Fabio Capello told him to study Marco van Basten and stop trying to score the perfect goal. Few, however, will forget his world-class effort against NAC Breda in 2004 when he danced around six defenders before selling the goalkeeper a dummy and slotting in the far corner.

Moving from Juventus’s number 9 to Inter Milan’s number 8 after scoring 26 goals in 92 games for the Bianconeri, his goalscoring touch didn’t deserted him. There’s a claim to be made that he is the last true number 9, one who scores from three yards with his head and, famously and often, 30 yards with his boots. He scored 15 goals in seven games in one super spell and helped Inter win the 2006 Scudetto, their first in 15 years. In 2007 he was Italy’s Player of the Year, and in 2009 won the Capocannoniere (25), sealing the glory with a delightful back heel.

Of course, few back heels of Zalatan’s will ever match his stunning effort against Italy at Euro 2004. It announced him onto the world stage and set in motion a decade of divisive attitudes towards the black belt taekwondo expert.

Fellow pros like Nigel de Jong, Seydou Keita and Marco Materrazzi praised his goals and his ability to do the impossible. Like Messi, he always seems to be enjoying himself, always tricking with his feet; like Ronaldo, he makes his teams better and is strong enough to shrug fellow professionals off.

He may well be the most composed striker in front of goal of his time, even rivalling Messi and the man he replaced at international level, Larsson. He can bend it better than Beckham and strike it as forcefully as Roberto Carlos. His mentality is as fierce and stubborn as Kenny Dalglish and his hunger akin to an ageing Paolo Maldini, who never gave us his quest for success.

He fell out with José Mourinho at Inter – in a case of who had the bigger appendage, and pride you may feel – and went to Barcelona. He had already won titles with Juventus (asterisked), Ajax and Inter Milan, so could his power bring glory to Barça and could he become the best player in La Liga? For the doubter, this is where Zlatan had to step up and cement his legacy.

He was their record signing, swapping shirts with Samuel Eto’o and becoming the number 9 to the Argentine’s 10, each scoring as many as the other until Messi took over with 15. Ibra finally scored 22 in 46 games for the Catalans but one of those was vital: in El Clasico at Camp Nou, his first, he scored within three minutes of coming on the pitch. Who writes his scripts?

Barça won La Liga in Guardiola’s first season in charge, but things changed in the 2010.

I would imagine Canal+ and the video editors had fun putting the show together, more because it increased the likelihood of Zlatan leaving the Blaugrana and coming to the country they operate in.

Against Arsenal in a Champions League quarter-final, he put two past a helpless Manuel Almunia. But Inter Milan neutralised Zlatan in the semi-final, Mourinho frustrating Barcelona as he would when he first moved to Real Madrid.

One respected journalist said that Zlatan was always the “prima donna” at every other club and in Catalunya, “he realised there were two or three who were better players than him.” Indeed, Barcelona played without a recognised centre-forward, so was it Guardiola’s fault that Zlatan would inevitably be frozen out? Sometimes no matter how good the player, the team comes first, as Guardiola said himself. His last goal was in the Spanish Super Cup 2010. Fans interviewed after Ibra left said he was not a good team player and was pretentious. A year can be a long time in football.

Next, Zlatan became Silvio Berlusconi’s new pet as he returned to the San Siro to play for the red half of Milan. Introducing himself in Italian to the fans that previously booed him, Zlatan wore 11 and scored from the start. Having already played with some of the world’s best, he was now alongside Robinho, Nesta, Pirlo and Seedorf. And Ronaldinho.

Winning and scoring a penalty against Inter Milan, he continued to dazzle and bamboozle, leading his team to the Scudetto in 2011, the final titbit of success before the Rossoneri nosedived into their current troubles. He grabbed 14 goals, and in the next season AC Milan and Barcelona were drawn together in the same Champions League group; the match at the San Siro matched Ibrahimovic with his old friends and foes.

Messi’s goal won the game 3-2 but Ibra scored a blinder. They met again later in the tournament; Ibra gave Nocherino an assist but Messi scored two penalties to win them the game. As consolation, in 2011-12 he was Serie A’s top scorer – of course – including a double at the San Siro against Inter.

Had he achieved the feat in La Liga or the Premier League – where he has sadly been absent – he would be given more coverage and more respect. Euro 2012 was a great platform; he scored a stunning volley against France. A few weeks later, he scored on his PSG debut at home, after being unveiled at the Eiffel Tower.

France poked fun at Zlatan initially, creating a TV puppet of him singing My Way and saying “Kids don’t believe in Father Christmas; they believe in Zlatan.” For some reason he was now wearing 18 on the back of his shirt.

In the away fixture at Marseille, he scored another of those Zlatan goals with his heel (though the goalie does let it slip through his hands), then two minutes later he scores a free-kick from 38 yards out. In a home game against Dinamo Zagreb, he conjured up four assists, and a few weeks later scored that astonishing hat-trick for Sweden against England, with a stunning free-kick and a stupendous moment of skill over his head for his third and fourth.

In the television show that fourth is repeated ten times for effect, with the Swedish coach saying it was like a video game.

Last season he scored yet more sublime goals, including an impossibly audacious back heel against Bastia. If you haven’t seen it on YouTube yet, check it out. His talent shows no sign of waning. Zizou himself said he’s too good for the league, “un joueur formidable” making it seem as though France have a Superman who, of course, is paid the most handsomely of all. Christophe Dugarry calls him a “horseman”, un chevalier.

Yet beneath it all lurks the omnipresent Rosengård spirit who leads with his boot or his arm, who gets sent off for stamping. Yet above this spirit is an unquenchable will to win, to dribble with style and to play the game he loves at the top level. He has won titles with five clubs in four countries.

And through all his fame, fortune and division, there is no mention at all of his private life. There’d be no time for it anyway, because this is a story about the most complete footballer of the modern era. It’s a story of proven success, hardened silverware and goal after goal, some so audacious that the players we consider greats could only dream of scoring them.

Zlatan Ibrahimovi? is to football what Novak Djokovi? is to tennis: sometimes number one, but always beneath the public estimation of the top two in the world. With Neymar becoming Spanish football’s new shining light, can Zlatan do anything to convert the world to Paris Saint-Germain, whom he leads with such brilliance? Probably, although he may not be around to raise the toast when they finally rule the world.

About the author – Omar Saleen

Based in London, Omar is the editor-in-chief at These Football Times. A professional coach by day having worked at clubs including Fulham, QPR and Red Bull New York, he also writes freelance for a number of outlets.

twitter: @omar_saleem


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