An article about Zlatan Ibrahimović may seem a strange sight to behold on the Burn FM website. But since my travels have taken me to Sweden, a country known for its high quality of life, exemplary health system and IKEA, it seemed impossible not to investigate one of Sweden’s best kept secrets: their utter obsession with footballer Zlatan Ibrahimović.
Most sports fans will be familiar with the name ‘Zlatan Ibrahimović’, but some may not realise the legendary status that he holds in his home country. Out of the 9 million inhabitants I can guarantee you there is not one Swede who doesn’t know the name. Not only does the entire population know of him, they all seem to have contracted the same fever: ‘Zlatan fever’. In the three months that I have lived here there is barely a street I have turned down or a TV advert I have seen where Zlatan isn’t present. His is the first face you see as you step off a plane in Stockholm, and he can even be found on the top right hand corner of a postal letter. So what has this man done to earn the obsessive affection of a nation?
Zlatan was born on the October 3rd 1981 in Malmo, Sweden. Since the day he first touched a ball, he knew he had something special. As he grew older, he would challenge groups of boys to play street-football games, that he named ‘Everyone vs Zlatan’. The prize for getting the ball off him would be a packet of sweets. It is perhaps here that his famous arrogance began to materialise.
His playing career started at Malmo FF, where he was labelled a ‘wonderkid’ by the Swedish media. Contrasting the nation’s current affection for Zlatan, former team mate Kristofferson remembers how “He was routinely booed by opposition fans” and that “They didn’t believe he would ever amount to anything”. But he soon earned a move from Malmo to Ajax, which leapfrogged him into continental stardom.
Impressive performances catalysed a series of transfers to some of Europe’s elite sides. Since Ajax, he has worn the jerseys of Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan and finally his present club Paris Saint-Germain, a CV any footballer would be proud of. The sum total of all of Zlatan’s transfer fees rack up to a staggering €169 million, making him the world’s most expensive player. The largest of those fees was paid by Barcelona, a staggering €69.5 million plus Samuel Eto’o, who was arguably the most lethal striker in the world at the time.
During his 16 year long career Zlatan has impressively accumulated numerous accolades both individually and for club and country. The 6’5’’ target man, at the time of writing, has made 741 appearances for club and country, scoring 411 goals, which demonstrates his scoring prowess. His most prolific season came in 2013/2014 for PSG, when he scored 41 goals, including several wonder-goals. Moreover, Zlatan has won league titles at every club he has played for as well as countless domestic cups. However, the Champions league still eludes him. He is a three times Serie A player of the year and has been in four UEFA team of the year awards, yet maybe his proudest achievement is winning Swedish footballer of the year, the Guldbollen, ten times. The self-proclaimed ‘living legend’ is currently Sweden’s all-time leading goal scorer (62). His most recent goal sent Sweden into the 2016 European championships in a 4-3 aggregate win over bitter rivals Denmark, giving the Swedish people another reason to adore their talisman.
As illustrious as his career has been, there is no doubt that there are other factors that make Ibrahimović such an icon to the Swedish people. His personality is another leg to the Swede’s pedestal. Zlatan may divide opinion on the pitch, but it is hard to say a bad word about him knowing some of the actions he’s performed off the pitch. Usually when a footballer is in on the front pages instead of the back, its due to some reckless anti-social behaviour, or tax avoidance.
What Zlatan has done off the field is nothing but inspiring. He self-funded ‘Zlatan Court’ in the streets of the city district Rosengård in his hometown Malmö. He provided a playing mat, goalposts, lighting, and a modern fence. In 2008, he even donated a whole squads worth of new Nike kits to his youth club, FBK Balkan.
In 2015, in a match against S.M., he took off his shirt in celebration, to reveal tattoos of 50 names of people from around the world, who suffered from malnutrition. This act was in support of the U.N. Food Programme. Additionally, on Aug 11 2014, Ibrahimović donated $51,000 to fund the intellectually disabled Swedish national football team so they could perform at the INAS World Football Championship in Brazil. The story goes that he was asked to donate a signed shirt which was to be auctioned in order to raise money for the team. He replied in classic Zlatan fashion with ‘what’s a signed shirt going to do? How much do you need?’ and subsequently wrote out the cheque which funded the team’s exploits. This kinder side of Zlatan is not normally evident to those outside Sweden. Within his country, however, it has not gone unnoticed and his generosity only fuels their love for him.
If his homecoming to Malmo -even though he is playing for the opposition- wasn’t enough to send the Swedes into a euphoric meltdown, he has generously booked out Malmö’s main square so the Malmö vs PSG game can be watched by all who can find a space to view the screen (I will be trying).
Ibrahimović has been honoured with the inscription of his name on Malmö City’s Walk of Fame. Furthermore, the Swedish Post Office issued a set of five postage stamps featuring Ibrahimović. Zlatan liked the idea of co-operation as he believed his fans who can’t read or write would be motivated to learn and send postcards to loved ones.
One thing is certainly fair to say about Zlatan: the man is not short of confidence. Known for his way with words, he has made some controversial and outrageous claims that have received mixed opinions. His book I am Zlatan was a best seller with at least half a million hardcover copies sold in under two months and was short listed for Sweden’s prestigious literary award, the August Prise. Lagercrantz, the author of I am Zlatan, said “In Sweden you can’t compare him to anything, he’s bigger than the King”. Along with his own book, he has produced his own song: Du gamla du fria, his own perfume, and there is also talk of a Zlatan movie (no doubt the man’s jealous of Cristiano Ronaldo’s latest flick).
As previously mentioned, Zlatan is known for his outlandish claims and equally outrageous quotes. Here are a few of my favourite quotes:
- ”He’s a genius and I’m God!”: In reference to Barcelona’s Lionel Messi
- “I can’t help but laugh at how perfect I am.”
- “What John Carew can do with a football, I can do with an orange.”
- “Dare to Zlatan”: Nike’s Dare to Zlatan campaign celebrates the fearless attitude of one of the world’s most iconic players and was borne out of an interview with local media.
Whether you deem him an overrated, egotistical footballer, or a confident and hilarious world-beater, it is hard not to appreciate his influence and alluring presence that continues to captivate a nation.