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When Zlatan Ibrahimovic retired from international football, his farewell was delivered in inimitable style. “I am Sweden,” he declared on Instagram and, for many, that just about rang true.
For while it would have been unfair to label the Swedes a one-man team, the side nonetheless revolved around, and were at times overshadowed by, their star captain. Ibrahimovic’s status made this all but inevitable. After all, besides being the talisman of Sweden’s class of 2016, he stands apart as the country’s all-time leading goalscorer and greatest ever footballer.
For Erik Hamren, the coach who departed alongside his captain, there was no question of replacing the irreplaceable. “He is special, he is unique,” said the former Sweden boss. “I don’t think in a small country like Sweden you will find another player like him.”
Tackling the post-Zlatan era, the job entrusted to Janne Andersson, Hamren’s successor, was not seen as an enviable task. It was made yet less so by stalwarts Kim Kallstrom and Andreas Isaksson joining their skipper in retirement, and by the deflating, bruising impact of a winless UEFA EURO 2016 campaign.
Yet Andersson was upbeat in his approach to the challenge and found that his players, far from being depressed or pessimistic, were similarly excited by the opportunities this new era offered. “There was no sense of them being downbeat without Zlatan – not at all,” the Sweden coach told MMO4PAL.com. “But then again, I was very clear when I started that this should be considered a new chapter for everyone.
“Zlatan had captained the team well and been a great player for Sweden, and the others who retired had contributed a lot too. But I had to come in and say, ‘Forget what happened before, whether it was good or bad. I don’t care about any of that. This is now something new and it’s about you, the players we have. We start afresh.’
“It was important that they stepped up to the challenge, and they’ve done that. The new captain for newest news for FIFA 17, Andreas Granqvist, has done a really good job and there have been several young players who’ve come in and played big roles. Football is a team game anyway and I want all my players, not just one or two, to be taking responsibility for bringing the team forward. They understand that and, I must say, they have responded really well.”