STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - After a season in which he has been of vital importance for both club and country, some comparisons between Sweden winger Emil Forsberg and Cristiano Ronaldo may be obvious, but the 25-year-old Swede is very much his own man.
Speaking to Reuters ahead of Sweden’s departure to face European champions Portugal in a friendly in Madeira on Tuesday, a relaxed Forsberg brushed off suggestions that he might have been inspired by the 32-year-old Ronaldo.
“Every football player looks at some players and gets inspiration from them, but I don’t look too much,” he said with a wry smile.
Full of energy and preferring to start on the left and cut inside onto his favoured right foot, there are plenty of similarities between Forsberg and Ronaldo.
For the best part of a decade, the Portuguese attacker has dominated discussions about who is the game’s greatest player, together with Argentina’s Leo Messi.
But Forsberg, who attracted the attention of top clubs around Europe with his displays for former club Malmo in the 2015 Champions League group stage, says it was another, less-heralded winger who inspired him.
“I had one favourite player when I was younger - it was Ryan Babel. He plays for Besiktas now,” he explains.
How he came to appreciate the talents of the Dutchman, who has also represented Ajax Amsterdam and Liverpool and is only five years older than Forsberg, remains a mystery.
“He was my favourite player, but after that I didn’t have so many favourite players. I can’t explain it, he caught my eye!”
Forsberg had a quiet Euro 2016 as the Swedes were pushed out at the group stage, but since the international retirement of former captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Forsberg has come into his own.
Inheriting Ibra’s number 10 shirt, Forsberg has scored three times in Sweden’s five qualifiers to date, and looks comfortable shouldering the responsibility of being the team’s main creative spark.
“I think I’ve always been comfortable in my role in the national team. I try to just do my thing and have fun on the pitch and to help the team as much as I can,” he said.
He is equally important for his club side RB Leipzig, currently second in the German Bundesliga behind Bayern Munich, netting seven goals and notching 10 assists so far this season.
His two goals for Sweden in Saturday’s 4-0 win over Belarus, where he displayed his full range of dribbles, passing and crossing, and Bulgaria’s win over the Netherlands leaves Sweden second in World Cup qualifying Group A, three points behind leaders France.
“It was a good result, we’re in a good position but still we have to take our points,” Forsberg said, sounding a note of caution.
Having cut his teeth at Swedish side GIF Sundsvall before moving to Malmo, Forsberg said he prefers to meet the top opposition in friendlies and that he is looking forward to testing himself against Ronaldo and Portugal.
“It’s a big game, for us and for them. It’s a good test against the European Champions and it’s going to be a fantastic game,” he said.
“The whole team is looking forward to it, so hopefully we can play good.”
Reporting by Philip O'Connor in Stockholm; Editing by Gareth Jones