Written by Annie Eaves (from Sport Witness)
Little boy lost. Three words which don’t automatically spring to mind when thinking of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but that’s a theme which keeps returning throughout his excellent autobiography. Much of the book has been serialised; Arsenal wanting him to take a trial, rafts of insults directed at Pep Guardiola and Barcelona in general, but the actual story of the man is far more interesting than any of the juicy bits picked ripe for newspaper coverage.
There’s a lot to Zlatan, his family and specifically his father were clearly scarred by the Yugoslavia conflict and it’s something which had an impact on the footballer’s life as a youngster. Zlatan goes to lengths to praise his father whenever there could be an insinuation of criticism but there’s no getting away from the tales about a young Zlatan repeatedly arriving home to no food in the house whilst his dad drank beer and listened to ‘Yugo’ music.
His upbringing appeared to make Zlatan look for the guardian role he’s missed out on through much of his childhood. The fights, arguments rebellion are all well covered and humourous as well as interesting, but without overtly canvassing for it Zlatan seemed to be looking for people to parent him for much of his early career.
Also See: Top 10 Zlatan Quotes
At Malmo he trusted people within the club and was then incredibly upset when he found out they’d done him over on wages when they sold him for a record fee to Ajax. At the Dutch club he was again left foodless at home as Ajax failed to realise their new star striker actually had no money. Help from older players got him through but to think a football club would spend so much on a player and not know he was losing weight because he couldn’t afford food, and was clueless what to do with it anyway, is crazy. At Juventus he was better looked after as a professional but Zlatan had already found two very different people to stand in his corner.
The way he talks about Helena makes it clear he felt lucky to have her, the pair couldn’t have been more different had they tried and Helena was the typical older woman in that she was classy, educated and sensible. Mino Raiola, who Zlatan employed as an agent whilst at Ajax, was the polar opposite.
Fat, sweary, aggressive and about as uncouth as he could get away with. None of that mattered because Mino got things done and helped Zlatan immeasurably. The stories of what Mino and Zlatan would plan and get up to are an excellent window on what really happens between the biggest agents and their best clients and certainly paints a better picture of people like Mino than is often displayed.
Whilst the story of what is essentially a man growing up and then achieving all his dreams is what most will be left with, there’s no getting away from the fights. Zalatan’s battle with a petulant Rafael van der Vaart at Ajax is intriguing and his AC Milan training ground scrap which left a team mate with a black eye tells a story about what manager Fabio Capello was prepared to accept and even encourage. Capello is one man who gets respect from Zlatan without question and taught the player to take respect rather than earn it.
As Zlatan repeats throughout his story, he takes things in his own way even if it’s not the way everyone else would prefer. He calls it ‘Listen, don’t listen’, and there are many other Zlatanisms to be picked up throughout the book.
He’s arrogant but it soon becomes clear that much of this was built up in childhood as a protection mechanism and grew as his fears about trusting people were confirmed. It would be difficult to read the book without warming to the player and there’s so much more to take away from this than perhaps any other football autobiography over the past few years.
Almost every page could launch a story on its own with the revelations and insight. As much as a look at Zlatan Ibrahimovic, this is a good take on how football really works at the top level and wouldn’t fail to leave a fan of the game more informed on the mechanisms of football.
About the Reviewer:
Annie Eaves writes about football for Sport Witness, a website bringing together news from around Europe and beyond. Sport Witness has continued to grow over the last year and has millions of page views each month.
I AM ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC:
I AM ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC, Zlatan’s autobiography, has been called the “best footballer’s autobiography of recent years” by the Financial Times. It’s a rip-roaring tale as Zlatan takes you from his poverty-stricken upbringing as an immigrant in Malmö, Sweden, to becoming one of the world’s most sought-after and expensive players, gracing Europe’s finest clubs, from Ajax to Juventus, Internazionale to Barcelona, Milan to Paris Saint-Germain.
I AM ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC is available from Amazon (£8.99 Penguin paperback, £3.99 Kindle edition).