Kevin Doyle: Ibrahimovic is a true great but Ireland can get result in Euro 2016 opener
ONLY three footballers have earned the right to be hailed consistently as A-list performers over the last decade – and Ireland come up against one of them in their Euro 2016 opener tomorrow.
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have been in a class of their own, yet in my opinion Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic is just behind them among the game's current greats.
I have huge respect for guys like Messi, Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic, as they show such a massive drive and determination to continue to push themselves to the next level season after season.
While I have given a enormous commitment to try and achieve as much as I can in the game from when I first kicked a ball, the dedication guys like Ibrahimovic have shown is way beyond that and can only be admired.
As we move through our careers, most professionals face a battle to maintain that burning motivation, desire and fitness.
People sometimes forget that soccer players have a life to deal with outside of sport in the same way everyone else does, with these demands growing larger as they get older, and this can be a big interference on a player's training habits and performance.
John O'Shea could be tasked with silencing Ibrahimovic this evening in Paris
However, as these three players have gone on, they seem to be getting better and better.
This trio sets records each season and seem to have that reset button in the off-season that allows them to come back refreshed and ready to beat what they did previously. This is probably their most important attribute.
Just look at Eden Hazard. He was being hyped as having joined that top-tier group last season and yet he couldn't replicate the world-class standards in the campaign that has just gone.
I know there are some people who are not big fans of Zlatan's attitude and some of his antics are definitely not my cup of tea but in most cases you need that selfish streak to achieve what he has done in his career.
He certainly has a high opinion of himself but his record since he left Ajax in 2002 allows him to back that up.
This is a guy who has won league titles with Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain and out of the last 14 seasons he has played, he has won the league title in whatever country he was playing in on all but one occasion.
Glancing at his CV makes you realise that he is a footballer who deserves total respect, as no matter where he has played he has scored goals and won major trophies.
The English media seem to underestimate Ibrahimovic because he hasn't tended to perform well against Premier League teams, but other nations see him in a different light.
Zlatan is one of those players that many football fans (including myself) struggle to love, but that all changes when he is on your team and doing what he does best.
He may be 34 now but he will be looking to have a big impact at Euro 2016, as it is probably his last major tournament.
If the rumours are true and he is off to Man United, I believe he still has at least one more big year in him to shine in the Premier League.
I was a United fan when I was growing up and even though the affinity you have for clubs tends to fade when you are involved in the game and playing for other teams, I would love to see Ibrahimovic working in tandem with Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford next season.
However, I am not looking forward to seeing him tomorrow night, because this guy has the class to give the Ireland defence a real nightmare as we get our Euro 2016 campaign underway.
I was part of the Ireland squad that took part in the Euro 2012 finals and the similarities with the draw we had back then and the task presented to us this summer gives a sense of deja vu.
We were given an incredibly difficult group against Croatia, Spain and Italy out in Poland four years ago and all the lads realised how important the first of those games was going to be for our hopes.
We were instantly pushed on to the back foot in the competition when we lost the opening match to Croatia and our belief and confidence was knocked.
We followed that up with defeats to Spain and Italy, meaning we went home way earlier than planned as both of those teams made their way through to the Euro 2012 final.
Getting a foothold in major competitions is important and that is why I would be more than happy if we leave Paris tomorrow night with a point.
It will settle the nerves of the Ireland players and give them much-needed confidence heading into the game against Belgium next weekend.
The Belgians are a good side but we still haven't seen them perform at their best in a major tournament, despite their galaxy of Premier League stars who are so familiar to us all.
The trouble comes if you lose the first match and then find yourself trying to get something out of the Belgium and Italy games to negotiate a way through to the last 16.
If we come out of this first game with a positive result, we will head into the game with Belgium in Bordeaux next Saturday with all to play for.
Ireland's Euro 2016 hopes may well depend on getting a decent result in this first game against Sweden and so long as we avoid defeat on what should be a fantastic occasion in Paris, I think we will be in for a great show in France.
Kevin Doyle supports the Irish Cancer Society – www.cancer.ie/