If you know about football this book is a short corner worth taking. If a ball isn’t the point at least try the link below.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a six foot five inch Swede whose parents are from the former Yugoslavia. He is one of football’s greatest strikers.
This book is about football from where he stands. The pace is agitated and powerful and page one starts with the two words that have caused the striker the greatest upset to date – Pep Guardiola.
Guardiola is the name of the quiet former manager of the brilliant Barcelona. His style is methodical and humble while Zlatan’s is powered by self-belief. In 2009 the two tried to work together as part of the flagship Catalan team. It was a short-lived uncomfortable experience that blasts off chapter one before Zlatan walks away to give us the bigger picture.
We go back to the beginning. We’re introduced to the player’s separated parents – his over-worked mother; his angry, alcoholic father; his drug-addicted half-sister. The voice is unapologetic and mixed with loyalty, pride, gratitude and frustration.
“Dad carried the mattress on his back the whole way from IKEA – completely mental – mile after mile, and I followed along behind with the legs. They hardly weighed anything. Even so, I couldn’t keep up.”
His family and Rosengard – the two forces that taught Zlatan to stand up for himself.
“All of us lads played at being cocky. Anything could set us off, and things weren’t easy at home – not by any stretch of the imagination.”
The pages propel through school, attitude, theft (especially of bikes) and the importance of football.
“I had my own stuff, my bikes and my football, and my dreams about Bruce Lee and Muhammad Ali. I wanted to be like them.”
We corner the edges of a rough childhood at speed. We’re in a mind fuelled by adrenalin and the fear of fear. The need to be included and respected is there from the start. It’s what drives Zlatan.
“You were supposed to impress the lads with tricks and moves, and you had to practise and practise until you were the best at them.”
Following school there’s the change and drama of transfer through the hands of football’s most experienced managers and agents. The stolen bikes become legitimate Ferraris; elite style smudges away the Rosengard-look; and the fighter is honed to devastating effect.
The book pours with words. There is constant tension between attitude and compromise; footwork and teamwork; leadership and respect; negotiation and stand-off; family and transfer; poverty and outrageous wealth – the combinations that forged one of the most goal-shaking strikers in the world … the man who wouldn’t be still at the feet of ‘the philosopher’ – Barcelona’s Guardiola.
By the final chapters we know it is inevitable that the two won’t get along. They split after a brief uncomfortable period but Zlatan still remembers the hurt. It is of the kind that has followed him all his life. His parting message to us:
“There are a thousand paths to go down, and the one that’s a little different and a little awkward is often the best one. I hate it when people who stand out get put down. If I hadn’t been different, I wouldn’t be sitting here now, and, obviously, I don’t mean: be like me; try to be like Zlatan. Not at all! I’m talking about going your own way, whatever that way is …”
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2018