Tuesday 22 October 2013

Opinion: Zlatan Ibrahimović triumphs due to his background

Mercurial striking talent Zlatan Ibrahimović as largely been billed as a man who defied his background on the re-release of his autobiography. However, Alex Lawson argues it is his background which made him the player he is.

If there has been one player who has divided opinion across the global game in the last decade, it's Zlatan Ibrahimović. From being dubbed the next van Basten to a 'big game bottler', the tall Swede who has led the line for Europe's premier clubs never fails to attract attention. 

'Welcome to Planet Zlatan', the blurb on the back of Zlatan Ibrahimović's autobiography reads. The strapline is an apt one as the reader is rapidly sent up in a rocket powered by the Swedish legend's ego into a world unlike any other. 

As unreliable narrators go, Ibrahimović was always going to rank highly. His version of events in his life and the frequent glossing over of details with a thick brush leads to a thrilling, if sceptical read. 

Much of the focus around 'I am Zlatan Ibrahimovic's release has been on his upbringing in the council estates of Rosengård, a district of Malmo. And it is these passages which provide arguably the most interest, so closely documented has his career been since. 

There are details of alcohol and drug abuse in his family; both of his parents' tempers and the struggle over custody. Zlatan himself, it appears, has always had a short fuse ("I was rowdy. I was mental," he admits) as well as the cocksure self-confidence he is known for which led to several bust ups with junior coaches. 

Ibrahimovic's is not a straightforward tale of humble triumph over adversity, the book reveals he kept his cantankerous heart from his teenage years through to his career as an international superstar. Perhaps most revealing is his latent surprise at his rapid rise from a substitute at  Malmö FF into Sweden's most expensive player when he landed a £6m move to Ajax.

It is this unique combination of a player who did not have a parent at the sidelines willing him on (until his Yugoslavian dad finally shows up when he's almost a pro) and an attitude which blew hot and cold which made Ibrahimovic the no.9 we know. If his signature arrogance is his most talked about trait, it is only a by product of having almost no one else - apart from Malmö FF sporting director Hasse Borg - who believed in him. 

And so the Ibrahimovic we know was born. Astonishing Taekwondo kick goals combined with lunacy off the field racing cars, deliberately hanging with unsavoury individuals and talking himself up to the media. That last relationship is interestingly explored in the book. At first, Zlatan courted the media and makes bold statements at every turn but quickly he was stung and pinpoints several personal vendettas not least with Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet.

Ibrahimovic's decision to open the book with his year-long dispute with former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola is an intriguing one. Perhaps the biggest conflict of his argumentative career, the difference in the dispute with the Spanish boss and other stand-offs in his life is the cold, quietness of the controversy. Ibrahimovic talks of being sidelined outside an exclusive Tiki-taka club including Messi, who he admits he even promised Guardiola he would be subservient too and be part of a team built around the Argentine. 

Ibrahimović's has been a career marked by conflict and success. The former, perhaps wisely, is given the most air time. However, it's worth standing back and peaking into his trophy cabinet of league titles in the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and France. Ibrahimovic is one of the most talented and controversial players of his generation, he is also a unique example of triumph because of adversity. 

Article originally appeared on FootyMatters.com

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