Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a brand that looms large in modern European football. He often projects an image that is larger than reality but the fact is that the reality itself is quite huge. Football autobiographies are often very bland projects as the subjects are excessively coached by PR agents that they end up sounding alike and saying nothing. Zlatan projects and image of courage, defiance and bravery and the book I am Zlatan Ibrahimovic lives up to that brand image.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s whole life is one of an outsider crashing a party he is uninvited to, becoming the star of the party and all the while playing according to his own rules. Those rules of his include holding a grudge and exerting vengeance at any time of his choosing no matter how long after, not being at fault even when he breaks rules accepted by others. Zlatan’s childhood and upbringing of which he is brutally candid about is the canvas on which his life story is painted. His father, a Bosnian Muslim married his mother, a Croat Catholic. The marriage was turbulent and toxic as his father’s alcoholism took the better of him. Its failure saw Zlatan and his sister being bounced around between both parents. The toxicity and dysfunctionality of the home life were enough to break any migrant kid trying to fit into an environment where he was a cultural outsider but Zlatan is no ordinary kid and never had been. Rather the adverse conditions fuelled his anger and drove him to excel in football as he permanently had a ‘me against the world’ mentality. He was mostly below average in school and when the school system classed him as a special needs student, lashed out in ways only Zlatan can.
His huge ego was not a recent development. He has always been like that and every success had fuelled bigger bragging rights. Like when as a teenager, he walked out on a date because the girl was twenty minutes late. Turned out that the girl was delayed by a late bus whose driver had taken a longer than usual smoke break. The same ego is at the root of his acrimonious relationship with Pep Guardiola. It is evident from Zlatan’s account that Pep has an issue dealing with big characters who refuse to conform but a deeper issue was Zlatan’s unwillingness to be one of the boys even in a Barcelona team that was the best of the generation. In his books, as long as Zlatan is delivering, rules of conformity must not apply to him. His whole life has been about the boy from Rosengard entering spaces where he is not invited and conquering those spaces on his own terms. He conquered Malmo, Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan, PSG and even Manchester United.
Asides his animosity for Pep, he is effusive with praise for Mourinho and Capello. He is also candid about his bust-ups with Van Der Vaart and Oguchi Onyewu, although, in a typical hypocritical manner, it is never his fault. His admiration for Maxwell the Brazilian defender who was his roommate in Ajax and Inter Milan shines through as a rare case where he likes a person with a totally opposite personality. Zlatan often gravitates towards persons like himself – outsiders who crash the party and become the star of the party with total disregard to existing rules. Mino Raiola is the Zlatan of football agents of sorts and it is no surprise that Ibrahimovic is full of praise and admiration for his agent. The pair are a match made in heaven and while the book chronicles their time up to his first stint at AC Milan (he is back there now), the bromance runs till date.
I am Zlatan Ibrahimovic is an interesting read that lives up to its hype. I only which Zlatan was more accepting of the fact that in all his quest for rightful vengeance and anger fuelled success, some of his acts would not be accepted from lesser mortals. Anyway, that is acceptable as in the world of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Zlatan is almost immortal.
*Just before the lockdown, while shopping for groceries I found way too much Corona Extra beer in the shop and decided to help reduce the stock. Good company for this virus-induced lockdown. I have always had a thing for Mexican beers (Sol is my favourite). Light, crisp, fresh lemony taste and not too matured. Apt for my beer palate.