Zećira Mušović interview: Here for a reason – Sweden stopper and the rhythm that runs within
Part of Sweden’s World Cup-bronze-winning ‘Class of ‘19’, Zećira Mušović’s early career has included multiple trophies with FC Rosengård, though perhaps even more impressive has been her emergence as a voice for better. The 24-year-old’s goalkeeping reputation continues to steadily rise, while beneath the driven, professional focus, she is made of compassion, consideration…and Balkan rhythm.
Zećira Mušović describes a scene at last summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, with Peter Gerhardsson’s Sweden squad surrounded by an agreeable countryside backdrop, just outside Rennes in the build-up to their quarter-final with Germany. Blågult have found an idyllic, temporary cove away from the chaos that is a major tournament.
In the tranquillity of private accommodation, a group that will go on to reach the final four of the tournament relaxes in the evening, playing cards and bowling games, or simply sitting and enjoying each other’s conversation. For the team’s number 21, the French summer heat may have thankfully dropped by this time of day, but what she sees fills her with warmth.
“Our national team is a group of people that loves to be together, to work together and to become better for each day, both on and off the pitch,” she says, 17 months on. “It’s a very caring environment to be in, with people that don’t have problems encouraging each other.”
The four-time league (Damallsvenskan) champion with FC Rosengård was born in Falun, growing up in Borlänge and later Helsingborg. What she has felt with the national team during Peter Gerhardsson’s three-year tenure, though, resonates all the more for the way in which it taps into the culture of her heritage.
Zećira, whose family originally come from the southwestern town of Prijepolje in Serbia, explains.
“I have family both in Serbia and Bosnia, and I would like to say that family is a key word in Balkan; there is usually a close relationship with your family and you spend a lot of time with them. When I was younger, before I started playing on a pro level, we used to go to Balkan every summer and spend two-and-a-half months there.
“So I have a lot of good memories from there and my childhood was really good because of that time spent there. The food is really good, I think, and the best part is that you always eat it together with people you love to spend time with.
“In my family, we do everything together, and when we are all gathered, then it’s perfect. Then there is always delicious food, music, dancing, singing, and just enjoying company together.”
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Unity was particularly palpable for her when Sweden faced the United States at the World Cup last year. Although the game, in the context of the competition, served to do no more than determine the group winner and perhaps lay down a ‘marker’ should the teams meet again, Zećira vividly recalls the goosebumps just before kick-off.
Linked in arms with her fellow substitutes and backroom staff, there were tears in her eyes as the Swedish voices in the 22,418-strong crowd in Le Havre filled the air during their anthem. She remembers being struck by how amazing it is for a song to hold such power.
Zećira is a personality full of life, so perhaps a prime candidate to not just guard the goal at FC Rosengård, but the pre-game sounds as well?
“I think I’m one of the DJs in our locker room, for sure! I love music and creating a good atmosphere for others.
“Music is important for me in many different ways; it really helps to motivate me, when I’m relaxing, and when having a good time with friends and family. I think music makes everything a little bit better.
“I really enjoy many different types of music, and like most of the songs that are on the top list. I like artists like Beyoncé, Dua Lipa, Ed Sheeran.
“My parents are from Balkan so I really love Balkan music and that rhythm that kind of music has. I like Dino Merlin a lot.”
With the appetite for enjoyment the former Stattena IF youngster has comes an unerring work ethic that carries some way beyond football. Having completed her business and economics degree, she then moved swiftly on to a leadership course.
Zećira has been proactive in putting studies into practice, becoming a board member at Swedish club Uppåkra IF, part of both the men’s and women’s football pyramid. Via a combination of her social media and her column with Fotbollskanalen, she has shared her thoughts on a number of issues in recent times, both sporting and societal.
With the strength and assurance with which she speaks, it is easy to forget that Zećira has not yet hit the mid-point of her 20s (next May for that one). Her answer to the question of the first music she ever bought, however, illustrates that point perfectly!
Vinyl and CD junkies out there, look away now.
“I was born in that generation that didn’t buy music; instead, YouTube and Spotify were where I got my music from. I really liked Shakira, which I still do, and Justin Bieber.”
Despite that Colombian/Canadian combination, when it comes to musical performers she has actually seen live, the Americans get first mention. The two in question also happen to be the ones responsible for the track that was playing in the Sweden changing room when Zećira and teammate Nathalie Björn got creative after the World Cup third place play-off win over England in Nice last July, ‘phoning in’ their bronze medal achievement.
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“I’ve been to Beyoncé and Jay-Z, their concert, and I really enjoyed it. Also, I’ve been to some Balkan concerts and those typically bring a lot of dancing.”
For the vocal and instrumental talent in the squad, boss Gerhardsson’s incorporation of songs into his coaching preparation, the odd beat-infused team celebration video and more, Sweden are among the leaders for teams in the women’s game with discernible musical fibres. Their welcome home from the World Cup last summer, which brought an astonishing crowd of circa 30,000 to Gothenburg’s Götaplatsen public square, included forward Sofia Jakobsson playing the guitar on stage.
Taking teammates out of the equation, though, if Zećira could see any musical act from all-time perform, who would she go for?
“Hard question, but maybe a duet between different top artists; maybe Ed Sheeran and Beyoncé. Or Dua Lipa and Justin Bieber; that would be a great one.”
While a player sticking with one club for many years would seem to most people like a testament to their importance and loyalty, the fact that it gets them out of having to perform an initiation song at a new team should not be discounted as a possible motivation! Recently finishing runners-up with Rosengård in the disrupted 2020 Damallsvenskan season, Zećira has never before had to treat her teammates to a solo rendition of a track.
How about if she had to take it a step further and record a cover song, with any teammate(s) from her career so far to collaborate with in the studio?
“I would definitely choose my teammates Nathalie Björn and Caroline Seger. I feel that we share exactly the same music style and that we’re on the same page!
“Don’t know about which song, but I’m pretty confident that we would make a top one!”
Being around a team teaches you a lot, especially one in the public eye and a group that carries itself as well as the Sweden team, individually and collectively. Zećira’s first senior cap came in March 2018 at the Algarve Cup, in a 3-0 win over Russia, after she had been included from the start of the 2019 World Cup qualifiers.
While Sweden have had various high-quality goalkeepers over the years, Hedvig Lindahl has played every game at the last four major tournaments, since Kristin Hammarström donned the gloves at Euro 2013. There will inevitably come a time when the ‘torch’ is handed over, and though Zećira is already challenging hard in the here and now, continually honing her reputation at club level stands her in good stead to possibly take over long-term.
With Rosengård, she has been a UEFA Champions League quarter-finalist, most recently in 2017, as well as being named in the Squad of the Season by UEFA’s technical study group while still a teenager (in 2014/15). Even when being a sub keeper with the national team, she tries to see herself as a starting player, with ‘how I prepare tactically but also how I go into training, physically and mentally.’
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She adds that her role in such a situation is ‘to be the one who might give others energy, rather than sitting sour in a corner and making myself a victim for not being allowed to play.’ Her recollection of supporting the team from the bench in the last-16 game with Canada at the World Cup could not attest to that any better: “I swore and I screamed, I cheered and I closed my eyes, I prayed and I hoped.”
Along with Peter Gerhardsson with Sweden, she has Jonas Eidevall as her coach at club level. She gives her take on the kind of approach that she feels gets the best from her.
“I work the best when I’m challenged but still feel that my coach has trust in me and believes in me. I love to take responsibility, with myself but also people around me.
“I feel very energised when people around me feel well and are comfortable. So yeah, it’s a mix, but I’m all into being straightforward; if you think something, say it.
“I would rather hear ‘you are not good at this, you need to work on that’ than ‘everything is perfect’, because we can always improve things and get better. As long as we are honest and have a good will, there is no reason to be afraid of the truth.”
Indeed she also speaks of having an extra passion in general for justice. The drive for better in women’s football, women’s sport, and in society as a whole, is no new trend, but it can be said without hesitancy that the momentum has never been greater than it is now.
Zećira is asked if there is anything in the women’s game that she thinks can be improved to help the players, whether it comes from the leagues, the federations, or even the media.
“I think we should value our sport even more on the women’s side. I think we should have more confidence and belief that what we do, we do it well, and that we should fight for our rights.
“When we start doing that, people around us will follow. I think the US is a good example; they talk about their football as the best, the players being big stars and everything.
“I don’t know that much about the players, except what I see in their communication, and all I see is big stars. Therefore, for me, they automatically become good ballers too, whether that is the case or not.
“Apart from that, I think the conditions around a team are really important, like having good facilities and staff that can really help the player to develop in different parts. Economy is also important, but this is the first step in my opinion, to have the same condition as the men.”
Her input on the board at Uppåkra IF encompasses both the male and female side of the club. The traditionally low percentage of female executives in the game overall has been highlighted on numerous occasions as an area rife for revolution, so why not Zećira to one day be a leading figure at a club or organisation at the highest level?
“I have high ambitions besides my football career. I don’t know for sure what I would like to work with, but I love football and I like the thought of building something really good, so why not?”
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Having taken to helping out in the family café in Helsingborg during football’s break earlier this year, her more typical endeavours include working as a social media manager for the company NocNoc. Of course it is her penalty-area management that she is chiefly recognised for, and while refining that particular trade, she has been nominated for Goalkeeper of the Year at Sweden’s Fotbollsgalan awards ceremony the past three years.
Goalkeeper analysis from pundits can stir up a few things, usually annoyance for keepers themselves, if the criticism feels unfounded. The common trend is for comments to take on an ‘absolute’ theme – ‘a keeper should never be beaten from there’, and the like, usually from those who have not played the position.
That kind of unwillingness to take other factors into account tends to be Zećira’s main gripe.
“Being a goalie is a mental sport as well as physical. It’s so much about decision-making and to do things in the right moment.
“The answer on things is rarely black and white, as the experts want it to look like.”
Sweden’s qualification for the now-2022 edition of the European Championship is confirmed, with Zećira named in the squad for the upcoming final qualifying group game away to Slovakia. The last 32 of the Champions League, meanwhile, has thrown Rosengård a hefty trip to Georgia for the first leg of their tie with Lanchkhuti next month.
Team goals aside, the mental gymnastics of being a goalkeeper are arguably as intense and constant as anything you could find in football, so to say that switch-off time is fundamental is not an exaggeration in the slightest. Zećira describes what that may often look like for her.
“Apart from spending quality time with family and friends, I have got a lot of energy for helping people in different ways. Also, I love to learn new things, and it doesn’t have to be in a specific area, I’m open-minded.
“That really stimulates me and gives me energy.”
The on-field action is not done, but we are into stoppage time for 2020 (though it feels more like 32 penalty kicks into a shootout by now…), and the final whistle is about to sound out here, too. Wherever the years take her, Zećira intends to remain firmly above the parapet, using her voice for far more than just organising her defence on a game day.
The final call here is all hers, as she takes on the regular Beats & Rhymes FC closing question. Through the years on here, the interviewee has been asked for four examples of teammates from their career to go alongside them in a fantasy 5-a-side line-up.
Unlike that aforementioned goalkeeper criticism, this one does not have to be so definitive. Rather than a ‘best four’, this question looks for merely a flavour of the teammates the player has especially enjoyed playing alongside. Here is Zećira’s mix, and just like her, it is built on Swedish/Balkan foundations.
“Amanda Ilestedt (defender): played with her for a couple of years in Rosengård and that’s my best friend. She would be the first one on the list, for sure.
“Iva Landeka (midfielder): also a player I played in FCR with. One of the sweetest friends I have and maybe the most humble one I have met during my career.
“Nataša Andonova (midfielder/forward): my Macedonian sister. Crazy girl with a big, big heart.
“Nathalie Björn (defender): known her for years and always have a great time with her. She’s also good at board games, so she would definitely have a spot in my team!”
To catch each of these interviews, you can follow me: @chris_brookes
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