Christian Wilhelmsson on Ibra & staying in the UAE

Martyn Thomas 11:31 30/04/2014
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  • 99 problems: Wilhelmsson is determined to extend his time in the UAE having signed for Bani Yas last year.

    Type the names Christian Wilhelmsson and Zlatan Ibrahimovic into YouTube and the first six results that are returned feature clips of what appears to be a training ground bust-up.

    Headlines such as “Brutal Kick” scream out at you, enticing you to click on one of the links that reveal an incident from March 2011 in which Ibrahimovic aims a sizeable waft at his Sweden colleague’s posterior.

    It is the sort of incident that has come to characterise the Paris Saint-Germain forward’s career, in which stunning goals have invariably been accompanied by moments of extreme hot-headedness. But all may not be as it appears.

    In truth, Wilhelmsson does spend the first part of the clip winding up Ibrahimovic and the winger insists the two remain “good friends”.

    “We played for 10 years together and became very close. It’s been amazing to be able to play with him and to get to know him privately,” Wilhelmsson tells Sport360°.

    That may be, but does the former Barcelona, Internazionale and Juventus star need to be handled with special care?

    “That is his character,” the Swedish international continues. “Even sometimes with his friends and family, he is not arrogant maybe, but he has his attitude.

    “But if you know him well you know what level it is and how to handle it. That’s how he became the player he is now, through his mentality and character.”

    Indeed, Wilhelmsson believes that single-mindedness is what has helped Ibrahimovic become so successful.

    “It is not easy to say you’re going to be the best in that game or ‘I’m going to score that many goals’ because you put a lot of pressure on yourself when you talk about yourself and what you are going to do,” he says. “But healways managed to deliver, and that is very rare.”

    One arena where Ibrahimovic will not be able to deliver is this summer’s World Cup. It will be the second tournament in a row that Sweden have failed to qualify for and while Wilhelmsson feels his country were “unlucky” to run into a Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Portugal in the play-offs, he does not feel his former colleague will necessarily be missed in Brazil.

    “Of course everyone wants to see a superstar like him at a World Cup but there are more players than just Zlatan that will not be able to play the World Cup,” he says. “I do not think people will think about that as soon as the first game has started. There are a lot of other players who are great but won’t be playing.”

    Capped 79 times, Wilhelmsson featured in only one of Sweden’s 2014 World Cup qualifiers, a 2-1 victory in the Faroe Islands in October 2012.

    He has not been involved since arriving in the UAE to join Bani Yas – his 11th professional club in 10 different countries – three months later.

    However, he has not ruled out a return to his national side, despite having endured a frustrating time in Al Shamkha this season.

    “I think if I chose to go back to Europe or back to Sweden to play then there would be possibilities again,” the 34-yearold, who remains in contact with the Swedish fooball federation, says. “I will see what the future brings.”

    The winger has had plenty of time to think about the future during the last seven months. Having helped Bani Yas to GCC Champions League glory last season, Wilhelmsson underwent surgery on his foot ahead of this campaign.

    He thought it would be a routine operation but once doctors opened it up they found, in his own words, “a lot of things that had to be fixed”.

    By the time he came back to somewhere near fitness the season was well under way and the club had filled their foreign quota. Unperturbed, Wilhelmsson got to work in the gym as he targeted a January return, with the club unhappy with one of those recruits, Marcelinho.

    However, that hope was extinguished as an injury to Amer Abdulrahman meant Bani Yas opted to strengthen their central midfield options with the signing of Sebastian Prediger rather than bring the winger back into the fold.

    The 34-year-old now trains with the club’s reserves, alongside fellow unregistered stars Mohamed Zidan and Andre Senghor, unable to play in official matches.

    “First of all I had a great period when I arrived,” he says. “We had a very successful time in the Gulf Cup, we managed to win that. It’s an international title for the club, and they hadn’t won anything for many years. So that was a big thing for me and for the club that I was able to help the team to a title. That’s why I came here.

    “[Training with the reserves] has only been for a few months which is not much time compared to Zidan but it’s working alright so far and the motivation is still there.

    “You have to keep pushing each other and be as professional as you can. Zizou (Zidan) has a couple more years than me left so he will have to really focus and maybe work harder than maybe he would otherwise just to stay on top of his game.”

    Wilhelmsson is not ready for retirement just yet though. The winger, whose family are settled in the UAE, has been in contact with several clubs in the Arabian Gulf League about exteding his stay here. And he insists his time on the sidelines has not affected his ability, only increased his hunger.

    “Hopefully I can find a new club in Abu Dhabi, Dubai or Sharjah because I love the life here and my family loves it here,” adds the former Al Hilal, Roma and Anderlecht player.

    “I have played at a high level and have won a lot of titles. Now I’m fitter than ever I think because I had the chance to do a great rehabilitation, I didn’t have any pressure because I was not registered for that period. So I had a lot of time to come back strong.

    “I know there will not be a huge amount of money involved but I don’t care about the money now, I just want to play football.”

    Wilhelmsson on…

    His nomadic career
    I see it is as a good thing that I could try all the leagues and play against all the best teams in the world. It’s been an incredible journey and I’m very satisfied.

    His favourite club
    The place that made most impression on me and still stays strong in my heart is Al Hilal in Saudi because I had a great time and the people really appreciated my play.

    The best coach he played for
    I had a lot of great coaches. I think Cosmin Olaroiu was one of them, also Eric Gerets was amazing and I had a very good relationship with Luciano Spalletti at Roma. They are probably the three best