Patience is indeed a virtue. Just ask Daniel Majstorovic. As this veteran defender will testify, it is only now, at the age of 33, that he is scaling the heights he has spent his entire career reaching for.
At international level, the big centre-half has finally become a regular at the heart of Sweden’s defence, excelling and even deputising for Zlatan Ibrahimovic as captain in Erik Hamren’s exciting, new-look side. This season has also brought the biggest move of a nomadic club career, with Majstorovic signed by Celtic to bring steel and experience to the club’s youthful line-up.
For a man who has yet to participate in a major international tournament, and has moved between Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Greece and Scotland, this belated rise to prominence has been a long time coming. However, as Majstorovic told FIFA.com, the reward has been well worth the wait.
FIFA.com: Daniel, if we can start with Sweden, it seems there’s a real excitement about the team Erik Hamren is building.
Daniel Majstorovic: There is, and I think we’re right to be excited. We had a really good start with him, won six games in a row, playing really good football, and I think that gave everyone a boost. It was something the players and the fans both needed after missing out on the World Cup, and it’s a good moment for the Swedish national team right now. I feel we’re on our way to something big.
Was some freshness needed after such a long period under the same coach?
Well, the first thing to say there is that the work that [Lars] Lagerback and (assistant) Roland Andersson did for Sweden was really fantastic. I have huge respect for everything they achieved and it shouldn’t be forgotten. But when Erik came in, I think we all benefitted from some fresh ideas and a new presence in the dressing room. Also, I think the way Erik plays football, which represents quite a big change, suits the players Sweden has at the moment. I think he’s perfect for the job.
I made my debut in 2002 and it’s taken me a long time to establish myself, but over the last couple of years I really feel like I’ve become a big player for Sweden.
One of his first successes was obviously tempting Zlatan Ibrahimovic out of international retirement. How significant has that been?
Huge. Zlatan’s a world-class player, one of the best in the game right now for me, and him coming back was a really big boost for everyone. It’s not only his ability on the field but his character and personality off the field too – he makes the whole picture different for us. He’s our captain, the guy that all the young players look up to, and I’m delighted we have him back in a Sweden shirt again.
UEFA EURO 2008 has been your only major tournament with Sweden and, even there, you didn’t feature in any of the matches. Having now become a regular, and given that you’re not exactly a youngster, you must be especially motivated to make it to EURO 2012.
It’s true that I’ve waited many years for this moment and, of course, I want to make the most of it now that I’m an important member of the team. I made my debut in 2002 and it’s taken me a long time to establish myself, but over the last couple of years I really feel like I’ve become a big player for Sweden. I had to wait patiently for my chance and I understood that because I was competing against a lot of very good defenders. But I always believed in my qualities and felt that my chance would come. I’m just happy it’s worked out that way.
Your club career is also flourishing at the moment with a big move to Celtic. Are you enjoying life in Scotland?
I’m enjoying it very much. It’s going really well at the moment, I’m at a great club, we’re playing some excellent football and we’re up there at the top of the league. I’ve settled in well off the field too – my wife and three kids really enjoy it here - so everything is fantastic.
You’ve moved to a country where Swedes and Scandinavian players in general have a history of excelling, with Henrik Larsson and Brian Laudrup arguably the league’s greatest-ever foreigners. What do you put that down to?
I think the mentality is key. Scandinavians don’t have a problem getting physical when it’s necessary and I think that’s essential if you are to do well in British football. You need quality and a strong character, especially at a club like this where there’s a lot of pressure, and I think Scandinavian players tend to be quite strong in that respect.
Clearly, Celtic is only the latest step in an interesting career that has seen you play in several very different locations. Have you become accustomed to moving from country to country?
It’s something you have to get used to as a footballer and I’m very grateful and proud to have had all these experiences of different cultures and styles of football. The most important thing, no matter what the country, is to keep progressing, and I feel I have done that by moving to Celtic, which is a fantastic club with a lot of great players. I’m very happy to have reached this level and, even at 33, I still feel I’m learning and improving all the time.
You do seem to have been a late developer. Can you explain why that might be?
Well, I had a great time in Sweden but I left at 26 and, looking back, that was probably three or four years too late. But I have no big regrets and I’m very happy with my career. I also feel good in my body and I’m confident that I have a lot of good years ahead of me.
And finally, if we speak to you again a year from now, what will you hope to have achieved?
That’s an easy one: champion of Scotland with Celtic and going to the EURO with Sweden. I’m pretty sure I could be happy with that!