I don’t claim to be football’s biggest fan, but I appreciate what the game has to offer and I like to think I can hold my own in a conversation – (mostly I just talk really loudly and people are, more often than not, convinced that I’m a pro).
And while there remain a few footballers who do little to maintain a positive image for the game, from time to time I come across a player who does, in my mind, warrant some level of admiration.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a player than I, along with many other people I’m sure, have come to admire. Ibrahimovic is a true “rags to riches” character. The 31 year old Paris St Germain striker has long battled to shake off the reputation that he has a bad attitude, is a nightmare for managers to handle and fails to play at any standard against the English. But much to my delight, the Sweden Captain is finally speaking out.
In his book, I am Zlatan, he describes his childhood and how he made it out of the ghetto and into the mansion.
Zlatan’s childhood was one of trouble and violence. Son of a tough Croatian mother and an alcoholic Bosnian father, who divorced when he was just two years old, Zlatan’s house was more of a battleground than a family home.
He lived in the Malmo Ghetto in Rosengard and resorted to stealing at a young age. Zlatan stole anything he could but he was particularly fond of taking bikes. He once stole a bike that he used to travel the 5k journey to football training every week which, it transpired, belonged to his coach. Fortunately the coach took it very well and reisted the urge to kick him out of the team…something I am sure Zlatan thanks his lucky stars for every day.
The football ground Zlatan played on was a dust bowl, but he lived for impressive tricks and skills which he had a natural talent for. He admits he never watched Sweden play, but admired Brazil as he thought they were a team that were unlike any other, bringing a new finesse to the sport. This is something he has aspired to replicate all his life. It would seem that football was something Zlatan used to make life that little bit more bearable.
Zlatan’s major problem, which followed him from the football pitch in Rosengard to the early stages of his professional career, was that he held on to so much anger and was unable to channel this appropriately, which often got him into hot water with managers and team mates.
When Zlatan was playing for Inter Milan, it was Jose Mourinho who made an impact on the player’s attitude and outlook on life: “He turned me from a cat in to a lion, he dragged things out of me that I’d not done before.”
If you step back for a moment and look at Zlatan’s upbringing, it is hard to comprehend how he was able to break those shackles and make it to where he is now. Surely he can be forgiven for having a slightly bumpy start.
Zlatan is now more than just a footballer; he is a legend and, indeed, a verb. Words have been created in his honour in more than one language. In France the verb “zlataner” translates to “to crush”, and in Sweden, “to zlatan” means to do something audacious or outrageously brilliant.
Zlatan has transcended the stereotypical image of a footballer and is now an inspiration, a hero to some and to many a way of behaving.
It was at the England Vs. Stockholm match on 15th November 2012 that Zlatan finally managed to put the comments to bed about his inability to play against English players. He scored all four goals against the English side, the fourth of which has gone down in the history books as one of the best goals of all time. His subsequent comments were gracious and somewhat poetic: “It is the way I wanted to play. Why be like everybody else, when you can do something special, different?”
Zlatan is now married with two sons; he has left his old life behind but has never forgotten where he came from and the experiences that made him the sportsman he is today. I have read that there is a photograph that hangs in the hallway of Zlatan’s Malmo mansion of two dirty feet. The photo doesn’t seem to fit with the lavish surroundings of his home but when asked about it, his response is, “they are the feet that paid for all of this.”
For more football and sports related posts follow the link below