MANCHESTER, England — Eleven years ago, Martin O’Neill said something he probably regrets.
O’Neill was working as part of the BBC’s team covering the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Bright and articulate, naturally inclined to playing the polemicist, his presence was quite a coup for the network. O’Neill did not go in for platitudes, which made him good television. And having managed at Leicester City and Celtic, his résumé lent him considerable authority.
As the tournament entered the knockout stages, O’Neill was in the studio when attention turned to Germany’s round-of-16 game against Sweden. The conversation, predictably, turned to the threat posed by Sweden’s totemic forward, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and whether he might be the man to eliminate the host nation.
And that was when O’Neill decided to venture his honest opinion.
“Good grief,” he said. “He’s the most overrated player on the planet.”
Some observations do not age well. That one, it is fair to say, turned almost as soon as it was uncorked.
After all that Ibrahimovic has achieved in less than one season with Manchester United, it seems inconceivable that O’Neill’s view of the player once approached orthodoxy among the devotees of the Premier League.
His poor record against English clubs in the Champions League — or, a far lower bar, on his occasional sallies against the English national team — was always trotted out as the case for the prosecution.
Ibrahimovic scored goals, great avalanches of goals, against lesser teams in lesser leagues, but always for sides on which — as the former Manchester United and England star Paul Scholes once put it — it was “easy” to score.