Ibrahimovic regrets 'exceptional' Gerrard did not play abroad


SWEDEN v ENGLAND:Zlatan Ibrahimovic has praised the captain, Steven Gerrard, as exceptional among England players but, while acknowledging Liverpool’s status, has expressed disappointment the midfielder has not graced “a big international club” or foreign league during his career.

Gerrard will earn his 100th cap against Sweden tonight to become the sixth Englishman to achieve that milestone. The 32-year-old was the subject of a tentative inquiry from Ibrahimovic’s club, Paris St-Germain, over the summer, a move that did not interest him and has left him still as a one-club man.

Ibrahimovic has enjoyed his own glittering club career, winning eight successive domestic titles with five clubs in three countries between 2004 and 2011, but he joined his coach, Erik Hamren, in expressing admiration for Gerrard’s contribution over the years.

“He’s a fantastic player, always someone who plays at a high level,” said the Sweden captain. “He’s a good fighter and has good skills also and is strong with the ball. He feels more like an international player than a normal English player. Whenever I play against Steven the coach always says be careful with that player because he can make the difference.

“He is respected throughout Europe but I would like to see Steven in – of course Liverpool is a big club – but in a big international club. I would like to see that also for England because it is very exciting when someone shows who he is in another competition. For me a fantastic player can make a difference in every country, wherever he plays, and I’m pretty sure that Steven would do that also. Of course, he is playing in one of the best leagues in the world now but he’s a fantastic player.”

Asked what he considers a “typical English player” to be, the PSG forward added: “Someone with a big heart, always fighting, aggressive, who never gives up. For me Steven Gerrard has more international skills than a normal player. England are used to playing 4-4-2 and the big teams in the Premier League are playing 4-3-3 with a lot of foreign players. It is developing like every other competition and every other country. They are a fantastic team with fantastic players.”

Hamren will select his strongest available team for the friendly, the first fixture to be staged at the new 50,000-capacity Friends Arena. Around 2,600 tickets were still available for the fixture yesterday morning, although they were largely the more expensive VIP tickets, with the invitation for England to play their part in the inaugural fixture designed to mirror the first game at the neighbouring Rasunda stadium in 1937, a game the visitors won 4-0.

This will prove tighter, with Sweden still enjoying their improbable comeback from 4-0 down to gain a point in Germany last month. Hamren will speak to Hamburg’s Marcus Berg to assess his state of mind before the game following the recent death of his mother-in-law and, if he does not play, Mathias Ranegie of Udinese will start up front.

Fulham’s Alex Kacaniklic – sold by Roy Hodgson at Liverpool – is in line for his fourth cap. “I am not out for revenge,” said the winger. “It was my decision to leave. Roy is a good coach and has done a lot of good things, and is well respected throughout the game.”

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