Footballer, phenomenon, fragrance… Zlatan Ibrahimovic is many things to many people. The A-Zlatan takes Ibraphiles beyond the sidebar of shame quotes even the average budgerigar is bored of repeating, deep into the make-up of the newly-minted Manchester United man.
Described as ‘a rubbish yellow paper’ by fellow Swedish icon, film director Ingmar Bergman, Zlatan has endured a fraught relationship with the tabloid during his career.
When the striker was involved in a nightclub fracas in 2002 Aftonbladet broke the story, with Ibrahimovic firm in his conviction that the paper encouraged a woman involved to press ‘harassment’ charges against him.
The paper also took it upon themselves to publish a full-page personal ad in a bid to aid his love life prior to a Sweden friendly in 2003.
“Did that make me happy?” he recounted in ‘I Am Zlatan’, “I was furious. What kind of respect was that? A personal ad! I wanted to knock the f**ker out.”
Nor did they do much to win back his trust after the fixture, running ‘Shame On Zlatan’ as their headline in the wake of a 5-0 success, simply because he won, then took a penalty when Kim Kallstrom was the designated taker.
“In Rosengård [where Ibrahimovic grew up] you don’t brag about the nice apartment and beach house. You brag about the fattest car, and if you want to show that you’ve made it in life, it’s with a nice ride,” he recalled in his autobiography.
For Ibra it all began with a rented Toyota while still a teenager at Malmo. Little did he know then that in a few short years he would be gifted a Ferrari Enzo (one of only 399 ever made) as part of his contract negotiations at Juventus.
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic's car collection
Zlatan may just be the unimpeachable maestro of the backheel, a skill that he has used to be both score numerous audacious goals.
An 85th-minute equaliser for Sweden against Italy at Euro 2004, an out-of-this-world volley against Bologna as Inter chased consecutive Scudetti, the prod that secured him Serie-A-top-goalscorer status in 2008/09, it’s quite a scrapbook.
- Seven Zlatan backheel classics
The humble velocipede was a central motif in the life of the boy who became Zlatan and it all began when the beloved BMX he had named ‘Fido Dido’ was stolen.
“After that I started stealing bikes. I’d smash the locks. I became great at it. Bang, bang, bang, and the bike was mine. I was the bicycle thief. It was my first “thing”.
Other people’s two-wheelers played a vital role in getting Zlatan to and from matches for early teams MBI and FBK Balkan, as well as the 30-minute ride from his home to the training ground of Malmo FF, who would become his first professional club.
“Under [Fabio] Capello I changed. His toughness infected me and I became less of an artist and more of a slugger who wanted to win at all costs.”
“Capello didn’t just beat Ajax out of me. He made me the guy that comes to a club and demands that the league title should be won, no matter what.”
Two quotes from Ibrahimovic’s autobiography that offer a reminder that he hasn’t always been the merciless accumulator of goals and medals we know today.
In ‘I am Zlatan’ Ibra admitted that by his second season at Inter “[the] Champions League had become sort of a hang up for me.”
Despite an incredible haul of club medals, it’s the one title that has eluded him wherever he’s gone.
Even swapping the Nerazurri for Barcelona, who had won the title the year before, backfired in spectacular fashion, with the side he had departed a season earlier knocking the reigning champions out at the semi-final stage on their way to victory in 2009/10.
“I remembered my dad with his headphones, the empty fridge and the beer cans, but also how he carried my bed on his back, mile after mile, and how he watched over me at the hospital,” Ibrahimovic recalls in his autobiography.
His father Sefik was an occasionally heroic, but often distant figure in the future footballer’s upbringing, as he struggled with drink and comprehending the ethnic cleansing of his home town of Bijeljina, Bosnia in the Yugoslav Wars.
Ibra and international teammate Albin Ekdal were accused of doping in 2016 by former Sweden track and field coach Ulf Karlsson at a conference in Värmlands.
“Zlatan put on 10 kilos in six months during his time at Juventus. I think he was doping, that’s how it seems to me,” Karlsson told Sport Bladet.
“Ekdal put on eight kilos while he was at the club. I think there was a culture of it at Juventus.”
Ibrahimovic has never failed a test for doping, while his agent Mino Raiola described the claims as “ridiculous”.
Zlatan in training alongside former Juventus colleague Ekdal for Sweden in 2014.
The English lagged well behind the rest of the footballing cosmos when it came to falling under the spell of the ‘Ibracadabra’ invocation.
“Me and the English fans and media have never really made a match, and now I was called “a whining prima donna” and “the most overrated player in Europe,” he recalled after coming off injured in Inter’s 0-1 loss to Liverpool in March 2008.
He finally broke his duck against Premier League foes with a brace against Arsenal during his sole season at Barcelona two years later.
However, only in 2012/13 did his celebrated four-strike Sweden v England salvo dissuade the last of those doubters, after which he began redressing the balance at club level, largely at Chelsea’s expense.
Nonetheless, his career win and scoring statistics against Premier League sides remain surprisingly slender.
Ibra delineated his feelings on the different groups within the former Yugoslavia nicely, when reflecting upon the Italian press’ presentation of an upcoming duel with Serbian Inter centre-half Sinisa Mihajlovic as a ‘Balkan War’, while at Juventus.
“I don’t give a s**t about ethnic crap, and seriously, how could I? We’re a mess in my family. Dad’s a Bosnian, mom from Croatia, and the little brother has a dad who’s a Serb.”
The hot-headed Ibrahimovic switched regularly between teams in his youth, including Malmo BI, BK Flagg and FBK Balkan, but there was little doubt where he felt most at home.
“In MBI the Swedish dads stood and yelled: “Come on, guys. Good work!” In Balkan it was more: “I will **** you mother up the *** ”. They were crazy Yugoslavs who smoked a lot and threw shoes around them and I thought: Wonderful, exactly like home. I belong here!”
Next to his hearteningly unblinkered views of ethnic divisions in the Balkans, Zlatan’s publically-expressed attitude towards womens’ football has been less than conciliatory.
Responding to controversy surrounding the Swedish FA’s 2013 decision to reward Anders Svensson with a car for becoming the country’s leading male cap-winner, while overlooking ladies’ record holder Therese Sjögran entirely, he told Expressen:
“It is better to stay on that line [paying tribute to Svensson] instead of devaluing him by comparing him with the ladies’ individual achievements. They [the ladies team] can get a bike with my autograph and then we are good.”
Therese Sjögran – Capped a record 214 times for Sweden as of 29/04/16
Not content with a lorry load of precious metal courtesy of his exploits with the orb, Zlatan bagged himself a gold disk for his rendition of the Swedish national anthem ‘Du Gamla, Du Fria’, which he recorded for a Volvo advert in 2014.
An unparalleled hate figure in the story of Ibrahimovic’s career, Pep Guardiola was the incumbent manager at Barcelona when the striker completed his dream move to Camp Nou before a 2008/09 season which was to be his sole campaign at the club.
Having decided to marginalise his new signing in favour of playing Lionel Messi in a central role, the tiki-taka tactician could certainly have handled the situation in a better fashion in Ibra’s eyes:
“I felt like s**t sitting in the dressing room and Guardiola would stare at me like I was a problem, some freak. It was insane. He was a wall, a stone wall. I didn’t get a single sign of life from him, and I wanted to get far away every second.”
Former Sweden defender Borg (above right) became sporting director at Malmo and straight away recognised Zlatan’s potential, alerting journalists to the prospect on the books.
He earned the trust of the young Ibrahimovic, who recalled “he [Hasse] was my mentor, like, a real extra dad”, but was to destroy it to the extent that, when the pair met in a Hungarian elevator years later, Ibra spurned his handshake and his greeting.
Borg advised Ibrahimovic, so he says in ‘I am Zlatan’, to shun agents, then convinced him to sign a deal with Ajax that made him the lowest-paid player on the Dutch club’s books, in order for Malmo to pocket a more sizeable transfer fee.
An early example of Zlatan’s flair for lyrical self-aggrandisement came when he recounted his bamboozling of then Liverpool centre-half Stephane Henchoz (below right) during a pre-season tournament with Ajax as follows:
“First I went to the left and so did he. And then I went to the right and so did he. Then I went to the left again, and he went to buy hot dogs.”
In February 2015, Ibra stripped off his PSG shirt to reveal the names of 15 people suffering from hunger after scoring against Caen to raise awareness for the World Food Program, a torment he knew all too well in his childhood.
“The other day my kid, Vincent, cried, because he didn’t get his pasta, but it was already cooking on the stove. The guy was yelling because he didn’t get his food quick enough so I wanted to scream: If you only knew how well your life is! I could search every drawer, every corner, for one single macaroni or a meatball [as a child].”
Now a footballing idol himself there is little doubt as to the exponent of the beautiful game that most inspired the adolescent Ibra.
“Ronaldo was the man. Not only for the step overs and the goals in World Cup. Ronaldo was great on all levels. He was someone I wanted to become. A guy who made the difference
“The Swedish national team players, what was that? There was no superstar there, no one there that the world talked about. Ronaldo was my hero and I studied him on the net and tried to understand his moving pattern.”
Later at Inter he faced the great Brazilian, then at AC Milan, remaining utterly in awe:
“I sat with the Swedish king at a dinner in Barcelona, and alright, maybe I thought: Am I holding the fork the wrong way or am I saying you when it should be your highness? But still, it was cool. I’m me. I just do my thing.
“But with Ronaldo it was different. When I was at Inter he played in Milan, and there’s a film on YouTube [opposite] where I’m chewing gum and just watch and watch him, like I can’t understand that I’m on the same pitch as him.”
- The Milan derby brings Zlatan face to face with his idol
“A guy I could more or less die for,” alongside Fabio Capello, Mourinho is arguably the manager to have been most vigourously approved of by Zlatan.
Ibrahimovic scored at a rate of 0.62 goals per game across all competitions during his previous one-season spell under the Portuguese’s stewardship in 2008/09, during which he Inter boasted a 57% win rate.
Swedish slang for a person, such as Zlatan, of Yugoslavian decent.
As a Taekwondo black belt, Zlatan’s talent for kicking stretches far beyond the football, as his teammates (Robinho and Antonio Cassano among them) and opponents know all too well.
- Ibra applying the boot to various colleagues...
A philosophy that has been “the foundation of my success,” according to the great man – the practice of learning exactly what is expected of you and then doing your own thing anyhow.
- Zlatan...not listening
When the Brazilian first met a young Ibra at an Amsterdam airport, neither could have known that they would become firm friends, nor how entwined their subsequent careers would become.
Not long after his arrival in the Netherlands, Zlatan found himself skint, alone in his apartment, out of his depth and with nothing in the fridge.
He called his recently-introduced teammate, who promptly invited Ibrahimovic over to his place, where he stayed for the next three weeks until his pay check arrived.
Since then they’ve played together at a further three clubs, Inter, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain.
Like any self-respecting sportsman-turned-cultural touchstone, Ibrahimovic has spawned several tribute records, of varying shades of questionability, from Balkan dancehall, to Swedish reggae.
- 'Zlatan' by Sanjin and Youthman
- 'Who's da man?' by Elias feat Frans
- 'Ibra Anthem' by K-Bro
Beef between Zlatan and Ajax’s home-grown golden boy Rafael van der Vaart had really been cooking after the Dutchman accused Ibra of injuring him on purpose during an international match between the Netherlands and Sweden in 2004.
All Ibrahimovic’s attempts to assure his teammate the mishap had been unintentional were rebuffed and the papers took skipper Van der Vaart’s side.
It all added up to a fairly anti-Ibra atmosphere when Ajax took on Breda, one that was expertly lanced by the titantic Swede with a Maradonaesque dribbled effort, while his crocked captain watched on helplessly from the stands.
- Zlatan lays waste to NAC Breda
- The feuding twosome...
Ibra’s hooter is a sizeable source of amusement for teammates and opponents alike.
- Ezequiel Lavezzi gives Zlatan's nose a honk
- Ibra's hooter is the target of Joey Barton's ribaldry
Training ground dust-ups have littered Ibrahimovic’s career, but, in terms of sheer intensity, none (he has let us in on) have matched his Milanello match-up against American centre-half Onyewu.
“I head butted him [Onyewu], and then we got in a fight. I’m not talking about a little one either,” Zlatan remembers in his autobiography.
“We wanted to beat the s**t out of each other. It was brutal and we were two guys over 90 kilos, and we were rolling around and used knees and fought, and of course, the whole team rushed towards us and tried to break us up.
“It wasn’t easy, not at all. We were crazy and furious, absolutely, sure, I admit, you’re supposed to have adrenalin on the pitch, you’re supposed to fight. But this was over the limit. It was like life and death.”
Afterwards the American prayed to God with tears in his eyes, while Zlatan was left nursing a broken rib.
Having been nine points clear at the top of Serie A in late-February 2008, Inter had frittered away their advantage to the extent that, come the final day of the campaign, they led Roma by a single point in the race for the Scudetto.
Zlatan had been out of action injured since a home loss to Juventus on March 22 and was, by his own subsequent admission, out of shape and not properly healed.
To make matters worse, their title rivals were playing already-relegated Catania, while Parma, Inter’s opponents, had to win to stay up.
Ibra, the Nerazzuri’s talisman, began the match on the bench and watched his teammates spurn numerous presentable chances.
The score remained locked at 0-0 at Giuseppe Meazza, but Roma took the lead, moving temporarily top of the table.
Enter Zlatan, six minutes into the second half…
- Super sub Ibra wins Serie A for Inter on the last day of 2007/08
Ibra released his own brand of fragrance, Zlatan Pour Homme, in 2015, after two years of work with renowned perfumier Olivier Pescheux.
The scent is “a citrus cologne with woody and aromatic tones” that “opens with notes of lemon, spices and green grass.” according to Fragrantica.com
Latin for “where are you going?” It’s a question that fans the world over have wondered of Ibra ever since he first began hinting his future lay away from the Parc des Princes last summer.
They finally have their answer, with the 35-year-old set to start next season at Manchester United.
Having finished Ligue 1 top goalscorer in three of his four seasons at PSG, he is 9/1 to finish his maiden season in the Premier League as the division’s leading marksman.
Numerous players may invoke the almighty for assistance in their footballing endeavours, but none besides Zlatan have so regularly referred to themselves in the role.
Ibrahimovic revealed himself as metaphysical overseer to a Swedish journalist ahead of a World Cup qualifier in 2013 and confirmed his status when selecting his all-time XI for Paris Saint-Germain a year later.
Even more so than Maxwell, pizzeria-worker-turned-law-student-turned-agent Mino Raiola has been a constant in Zlatan’s career since they began working together while the striker was at Ajax.
Variously referred to as “genius” and “fat idiot” in ‘I am Zlatan’, the maverick dealmaker wasted little time getting stuck in to his would-be world-beater in Amsterdam:
“You’re going to sell your cars. You’re going to sell your watches and start training three times harder. Because your stats are crap.”
Yet, Raiola has been equally capable of advice a good deal more poetic and profound during their relationship, such as on the phone to an Ibra demoralised by the failure of his time at Barcelona:
““Zlatan”, he answered. “Yes.” “Dreams can come true, and make you happy.” “Yeah.” “But dreams can also come true and kill you.””
“We lived in Rosengård outside of Malmö and it was full of Somalis, Turks, Yugoslavs, Poles, all kinds of immigrants, and Swedes.”
“We lived on the fourth floor up on Cronmans väg, and we didn’t run around hugging each other. No one asked “How was your day today little Zlatan”, nothing like that.
“No grown-ups would assist with homework or ask if you had any problems. You were on your own, and you couldn’t whine about someone being mean to you. You just had to bite the bullet, and there was chaos and fights and some punches.”
Rosengård, December 18, 2008. A second night of rioting linked to the closure of a local Islamic cultural centre.
Unsettled in his early days at Ajax, Ibrahimovic called his then-agent Anders Carlsson asking if there were any suitors that might offer him an escape route.
Carlsson’s answer, when it came, was deemed deeply unsatisfactory (as related in ‘I am Zlatan’):
“Southampton…Southampton is interested”, he [Karlsson] said. “What the f**k! Southampton! Is that my level?” Southampton!”
Ibra could have shared a dressing room with Jason Dodd, but for his legendary self assurance.
When Zlatan lived with his mother she would often punish her children for their indiscretions by hitting them with spoons so hard the utensils would break.
The Swedish postal service Posten first revealed they planned to release a set of stamps bearing Ibra’s image in November 2013.
By the time they were released on March 27, 2014, five million had been sold in advance.
A childhood friend of Zlatan, the pair may now disagree on many elements of their mutual back-story, but both acknowledge that in their younger years and even as each broke into the Malmo first team, Flygare was considered a greater talent.
‘He [Ibra] wanted to be better than me at everything — girls, football, PlayStation — and we would almost end up fighting. I was a mountain to him and he had to climb it,’ the latter recalled In Daily Mail interview in March 2014.
Flygare drifted into obscurity not long after breaking through at Malmo, touring the the backwaters of European football in a nine-year professional career that ended in 2008.
He remains estranged from his childhood friend, who, at the time of the aforementioned Mail article, he had not spoken to since a chance meeting in a Stockholm shopping centre in 2001.
Ibra has accumulated trophies at a downright-farcical rate during his lengthy career, winning his 13th league title in 15 seasons with PSG this March.
Here is his King Soloman-rivalling haul of precious metals in full…
During his time at Inter, Ibrahimovic went from being beloved to reviled by the Nerazzuri’s hardcore support.
The same fans who had unveiled an enormous banner reading “Benvenuto Maximillian” to welcome his son into the world turned on him when it became clear that he wanted to leave the club.
Ibra reacted to their booing during a May 2009 clash with Lazio, by lifting his finger to his lips in a hushing gesture to their massed ranks.
The Ultras were waiting for him in the locker room after the game.
True to form he walked straight up to them and suggested that if anyone in the stands had a problem, they should come down on to the pitch and sort it out, one on one.
Just in case anybody was laboring under the impression that Zlatan needs to be compos mentis in order to find the back of the net, here’s a goal he scored for Sweden in the process of being knocked out against Hungary in 2002.
- Zlatan is KO'd in the act of scoring for Sweden v Hungary in 2002
Earlier in his career, Zlatan was often compared to the legendary Dutch goalscorer Marco van Basten.
Leo Beenhakker saw that he inherited the former Ajax and AC Milan man’s number nine shirt when he arrived at the Amsterdam Arena, where he was later coached by the man himself.
At Juventus, Fabio Capello, who had managed Van Basten in his AC Milan heyday, told Ibra he was the better player, then made him watch a video of the maestro’s goals to improve his positioning.
Even (Rossoneri owner) Silvio Berlusconi saw fit to inform him of the similarity.
Louis van Gaal was director of football at Ajax during Zlatan’s spell there in the early noughties, where it’s fair to say he failed to earn the Swede’s respect.
When the Iron Tulip, by this point long since a Champions League-winning manager, questioned whether Ibrahimovic understood his defensive responsibilities, he was greeted with the following withering response:
“Van Basten told me that the number nine should save his energy for attacking and scoring goals, and honestly, now I don’t know who I should listen to. Van Basten, who’s a legend, or Van Gaal?”
By no means has Zlatan always been the hulking colossus that dominates Ligue 1 today, at times he’s been even bigger…and far more slight.
According to the man himself in ‘I am Zlatan’ he weighed 75kg or less at one point in his time at Ajax, so skinny that his ribs were visible through his skin when he tore off his shirt to celebrate a KNVB Cup-winning goal versus Utrecht in 2002.
In the early days at Juventus he had reached 84kg before eventually hitting a hefty 98kg – he currently tips the scales at 95kg according to Ligue 1’s official 2015/16 statistics.
A department store in the Jägersro area of Malmo, upon which a young Ibrahimovic and accomplice attempted a daring raid.
Dressed in long down coats in the middle of summer, they tried to make off with four table tennis paddles and a host of other miscellaneous items, but were rumbled by the store detective.
Zlatan has described his computer-gaming compulsion as “like a disease” and this reminiscence from his Internazionale years sheds some light on the levels of his addiction.
“It was called ‘Gears of War’, and I went insane. I’d lock myself up. I built a gaming room and sat there hour after hour and it could be three, four in the morning, and I really had to take care of myself and not turn up at practice like a wreck.
“But I continued. “Gears of War” was like a poison.
“Gears of War” and “Call of Duty”. I played those all the time. I needed more and more. I couldn’t stop and often I would play online with others, Englishmen, Italians, Swedes, lots of different people, six, seven hours a day, and I had a gamer tag.
“I couldn’t call myself Zlatan on the net. So of course, no one knew who was behind my tag. But I promise you, I impressed people, even under a false name. I had been gaming all my life, and I’m an extreme competitor. I’m focused. I crushed everyone”
Ibrahimovic was only ten when the decade-long ethnic conflicts began in the former Yugoslavia in 1991, but he was kept insulated from bad news by his relatives:
“The war was a strange thing. I never found out anything about it. I was being protected. Everyone really made an effort. I didn’t even understand why mom and my sisters dressed in black. It was weird, like some new fashion thing.
“But it was our grandmother who had died in a bomb attack in Croatia and everyone mourned, everyone except me, who never found out about anything and never would care if people were Serbs or Bosnians, or whatever.”
Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina (December 1995), which was destroyed in fighting between Bosnian and Croatian Forces in 1993.
A floodlit five-a-side football court built by Ibra and his sponsors Nike, at Cronmans väg in Rosengård, where he had honed his game as a youngster.
A french verb first used on the satirical puppet show ‘Les Guignols de l’info’, in which all characters are in awe of Ibrahimovic’s omnipotence.
Translated into English as ‘to Zlatan’, the term was officially recognised by the Swedish Language Council in 2012 in it’s translated form ‘zlatanera’, meaning ‘to dominate on and off the field.’
The following video (en francais), sees Ibra offering a visiting Stade Rennais side a safety briefing on what do in the event of being ‘Zlataned’ . English translation below.
- Zlatan's safety briefing on Les Guignols de l'info
Laurent Blanc: Gentlemen, can I have your attention please while Zlatan gives you a safety briefing.
Zlatan: Good evening and welcome aboard the Parc des Princes.
In order to avoid being Zlataned, emergency exits are located in the front, middle and back of the stadium.
The white lines extending from the centre circle will show you the way to the changing rooms.
In case of Zlatanisation, an oxygen mask will be provided. Pull the mask to release oxygen, apply it to your face, and breathe normally.
We would like to remind you that the use of devices is prohibited on the pitch. Those who want to take pictures with Zlatan will have to wait until the end of the match.
Now, check that your laces are tied, and say your prayers.
We also recommend that you adjust the waistband of your shorts, as you may experience turbulence as Zlatan goes past you.
The safety information you have just listened to is available to you here (shows leaflet).
Zlatan wishes you a good game.
Voiceover: Air Zlatan, even more dangerous than a flight with Malaysia Airlines.