Book Review: I am Zlatan Ibrahimović
I am Zlatan Ibrahimović
by Zlatan Ibrahimović and David Lagercrantz
Published by Penguin
Former Leeds United manager Howard Wilkinson was once asked how to deal with the maverick player who isn’t always perhaps the best influence on the dressing room.
‘Sell him to Manchester United for a million pounds’ was the laconic reply.
Even after the fact, such self-awareness in relation to the notorious jettisoning of Eric Cantona must displays a rare spirit of mea culpa and the difficulty of dealing with a waywardly inclined star player would more usually provoke a tearing out of hair in clumps or a rush for the medicine cabinet.
…and so it must have proved with Zlatan Ibrahimović, a man with a claim to be Sweden’s greatest player since Niels Liedholm and whose tour of Europe’s top clubs has proceeded at a rate of knots – now turning out for Paris St. Germain having already represented both sides of the Milan coin, Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, Juventus and Ajax, as well as the home town team where it all started, Malmö FF.
The contract negotiations as described in the player’s brand new, much talked about autobiography, I am Zlatan Ibrahimović provide some hint as to the tempestuousness of dealing with Zlatan – a lanky kid from the wrong side of the tracks who didn’t even make it into the centre of Malmö until he was 17, has taken his Ferrari up to 325 kilometres an hour, mastered the ins and outs of Xbox and Playstation, forced Oguchi Onyewu to pray for his safety and been on the end of a flying pair of scissors flung by fellow bad boy Mido.
But this Zlatan has also become known for some of more memorable goals of the modern era including an outrageous kung-fu back heel against Italy in the 2004 European Championships and an overhead kick thirty yard distant from the goal in a friendly against England in 2012. Not has it all been about the fancy tricks – scudetti have been scooped no less than 6 times with Zlatan in the team while he also has Eredivisie, Ligue Un and La Liga winner’s medals.
Such events are duly recounted in the new book, published by Penguin and co-written with David Lagercrantz and if the tide of honours will be wearily familiar to regular readers of footballing memoirs, the unusual background of the Malmö suburb of Rosengård provides the main appeal of a book which overturns many preconceptions of the Swedish idyll.
In an area where 86% of the inhabitants are of foreign ethnicity, Zlatan’s was a lively upbringing – of mixed Bosnian Muslim/Croatian descent, it’s an unreconstructedly macho environment where fast cars and ‘fit’ girls are the targets, where developing a thick hide is essential and where alcoholism and drugs often form the backcloth.
Nothing particularly new in that in footballing terms of course but Zlatan’s progress from a man who hadn’t even heard of 1994 World Cup hero Thomas Ravelli and showed nothing but disdain for Swedish sporting heroes such as Ingemar Stenmark to one worried if his knife and fork were placed correctly when sat next to members of the royal family is a fascinating one to chart and provide a rewarding core to the book.
Not does Ibrahimović pull his punches when it comes to accounts of his career relationships. While the likes of Olof Mellberg, Jose Mourinho (To Zlatan’s wife – ‘you have only one mission. Feed Zlatan, let him sleep, keep him happy’) and Patrick Vieira are provided with fulsome praise, Rafael van der Vaart and Louis van Gaal are ripped to shreds while the author cannot even bring himself to name one player who would report back from international trips banging on about ‘what they do at Arsenal’ – one hazards a guess that Freddie Ljungberg is being described.
But the choicest, most pertinent criticism is reserved for Guardiola, his manager for just a lone season in Catalonia and who seemingly forced him out of the club, earning the blaugrana a massive financial loss on the deal. Zlatan is scathing on the topic of the new Bayern Munich manager’s schoolmasterly style where the stars behave like roundhead yes men.
That’s where one needs a wider perspective in order to enjoy the book of course. Although Zlatan’s hyperactive descriptions carry a degree of charm, if mainly because of their outrageousness; the backcloth at Barcelona which saw the club elevate themselves to a position as perhaps the best ever makes it hard to be dismissive of Guardiola’s viewpoint. Ibrahimović does devote a lot of time to a match against Arsenal where he scored two stunners to silence the English press which always doubted him (yes you…Martin O’Neill) while his goals record for Barca wasn’t shabby – but Zlatan never seemed to fit in at the club and there are perhaps feint echoes of that regarding Neymar’s situation now.
So it’s a one sided account that perhaps needs someone to counter with an unauthorised biography – and it’s certainly surprising that it’s been nominated for a top literary prize in Sweden – but in all, Zlatan doesn’t come across a bad guy at all and there is absolutely no question of his talent – that he isn’t generally ranked with the likes of Ronaldo and Messi is arguably more for non-footballing reasons than anything else.
That’s how he would view it of course and this retort to an agent who had notified him of a certain English club’s interest is perhaps the highlight of the volume:
‘What the fuck! Southampton! Is that my level?’