Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David Lagercrantz, I am Zlatan Ibrahimovic, trans.Ruth Urbom, London: Penguin, 2011.
I am reading Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s autobiography yes I am. In the late 1990s, Malmo Football Club (Malmo Fotbollforening, MFF) was relegated to the second division. The documentary Bladarar shows some of their fans in tears as the final whistle of the year blows, sealing their fate. The stands are almost empty and the fans appearances’ indicate their lost sense of hope; their slow coming to terms with the inevitable demotion. The scenes of anguish are a universal of mass sporting occasions: angry tough men expressing their frustration with macho aggressiveness or resigned passivity. The documentary quickly merges into the next season, after only a comments from the managerial staff about the club’s failure in the 1999 season. Now in the Swedish second division, the stadiums are a sparser and less grand. The number of supporters have diminished but the hard core remain. They continue to express their frustration: shouting advice, condemnation and insults from somewhat closer to the pitch. Perhaps, indeed, getting in the ears of players. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a young player of Bosnian and Croatian background from the district of Rosengard, emerges in this context. The man is brash and he puts noses out of joint as a matter of style. By the end of the documentary, MFF are back in the top division and Malmo has been sold to Ajax of Amsterdam. Mr.Ibrahimovic continues to wind people up, but, he’s made it further than most of them; he’s been sold for a record amount for a Swedish player.
Housing solutions in Rosengard
This is an autobiography which not only tells the rise of a footballer, but, also the life of immigrants in Sweden as well as the social and cultural conditions of Rosengard – an infamous neighborhood of Malmo. Zlatan is proud of his origins from Rosengard, but at times he struggles against his tendencies to behave in a manner normal to Rosengard, but that are elsewhere considered to be rough, aggressive and arrogant. In the face of authority and a perception of him being arrogant and a renegade, Zlatan most often, chooses to outdo their preconceptions and act more aggressively, more arrogantly. But the man has a winning smile and charm. He can turn it on when he needs to. Moreover, at least in this memoir, he does have the ability to be relatively self-aware, critical and highly calculating in his negotiations of the broader football world. Unfortunately, his ‘self-awareness’ often manifests itself in statements such as, ‘I needed to be left alone so that I could damage some stuff’.
Zlatan on a quiet day
The secrets of success for the teams Ibrahimovic plays for are not difficult. Regarding Inter Milan’s second successive Scudetto in 2009, he writes: “Inter Milan hadn’t won it in seventeen years. They’d had a long hard spell, filled with suffering and bad lack and shit. Then I came, and now we’d brought home the league title two years in a row, and the whole place was a three-ring circus” (Ibrahimovic 2011, p.239). This isn’t the only occasion in which Ibrahimovic formulates such a simplistic analysis of success. Elsewhere, he lays the blame of his conflicts with figures such as Pepe Guardiola, Lionel Messi, Oguchi Onyewu and Rafael van der Vaart squarely at their feet. After the fallout and his drop in commercial value while at Barcelona, Zlatan (he continually refers to himself in the third person), writes, “thanks to a single person, my price tag had gone down by 50million euros” (Ibrahimovic 2011, p.300). Although he is given the silent by Guardiola throughout his time at Barcelona and under-performs because of it (according to him, of course), he thrives on the difficult-to-please attitude dished out by Jose Mourinho.
Zlatan is at his most poignant when writing of his childhood home. These the book’s brief moments of his less aggressive side – i.e. the moments when he acknowledges his arrogance and hustling of others. “Sometimes, maybe, I go too hard on people. I dunno. That’s been a thing with me from the very beginning. My dad would go off like an angry bear when he drank, and everyone in the family would be scared and get out of there. […] My entire childhood was filled with tough people who would go off on a hair-trigger […] and ever since then I’ve had it in me, that watchful side: what’s happening? Who wants a fight? My body is always ready for a battle” (Ibrahimovic 2011, p.291).
The book contains two sections of support material: ‘cast of characters’ and ‘career timeline’. He doesn’t have many friends and he ascribes the bare essentials to his characters. “Jurka: My mum. Born in Croatia. She worked as a cleaner”, as for his father: “My dad. Born in Bosnia. He has worked as a bricklayer and property caretaker”. Most only exist because they have had some sort of brief connection with Zlatan. The career timeline is filled with his successes, as one could cynically presume. He tells us his goal for the Swedish national team in 2012, was “one of the best goals of all time”. No doubt.
Conviction, for me, is one of the main ingredients for compelling writing. Zlatan, with his co-author David Lagercrantz, to put it mildly, writes with conviction. This book probably created some more enemies – not that he would care or notice. There is quite a degree of finger pointing and naming. Perhaps Mr.Lagercrantz could have been a more critical co-author in order to uncover some of the complexities of Zlatan’s teams’ successes. But, for Zlatan, there is only one way – to go harder and harder, to be brasher and brasher and to become more and more successful – whatever it takes.
“I’m about to score one of the best goals ever. Watch me.”
By the end of the book Zlatan is playing for Paris Saint Germain, owned by Qatar Investment Authority. It’s a long way from the miserable finances of MFF. Youtube is filled up with clips of his antics, goals, and quotations. His smile is infectious and it is difficult not to like him. In a recent interview, after arriving at PSG, he is asked if he would like to win the Champions League. He responds by saying of course he would and that it would be important to him, but, at the same time it wouldn’t because his career has already been fantastic. The art of being Zlatan involves this unshakeable self-belief (arrogance) coupled with his equally immovable charm and an ability to maintain a get-out-clause, should an unlikely failure happen.