PARIS – Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the famed Swedish superstar striker of the Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) soccer team has just released his autobiography, entitled “I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic.” He spoke with Le Monde.
LE MONDE: This book sold 700,000 copies in Sweden. Did you expect it to be such a hit?
ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC: That is more than 7% of the Swedish population! I didn’t expect that. But it didn’t matter to me – I’m happier about a couple of people liking my book than I am with selling 700,000 copies.
Is Zlatan Ibrahimovic a fictional character?
No, no. I stay true to myself. I have been Zlatan since the first day and I will be until the last, I will never change. Not everyone can become Zlatan or a professional soccer player but everyone must believe in what he wants to be: journalist, hockey player or writer. Even from where I come from, it is possible to make something of yourself. It’s not really part of the Swedish mentality, though – becoming someone incredible, someone famous isn’t very important in Sweden.
You talk a lot about your childhood in Rosengard , in the city of Malmö. Is this neighborhood still with you?
You can take me out of Rosengard but you will never take Rosengard out of me. People say it’s a bad neighborhood, but not me. I had it all: friends, activities, football, and my mother’s apartment. When I was playing outside, she would call me in for lunch. My father’s apartment was on the other side of the highway. When I was 17 years old, I discovered a new world by moving to downtown Malmö. I loved living in the suburbs, but living in town was even better. It’s easier to go from the ghetto to the city than the other way around.
In this book, you make a distinction between Swedes and “foreigners,” which is how you consider yourself. Have you ever felt completely Swedish?
I’ve always considered myself as a Swede. I used the word “ghetto” even though it’s not really a ghetto, but let’s call it like that anyway. We were all perceived as foreigners. There were the Africans, the Yugoslavs, the Turks, the Brazilians, etc. We were all different but as a group, we spoke the same language – Swedish. I spoke Yugoslavian with my family.
In Malmö, you could feel the difference between the Swedes and the foreigners who played soccer. To be able to play in the first team, because my name wasn’t Andersson or Svansson, I had to stand out and be ten times better. My name is Ibrahimovic. I’m not the average Swede. I had to work harder because of that. Before me there was Martin Dahlin – the first black man to play in the Swedish national team – but his name sounds more Swedish than mine. That makes a big difference!
Do you see yourself as the best Swedish ambassador in France?
If I have to pay attention and think twice about what I say, it would sound wrong and it wouldn’t be me. I want to serve Sweden best by staying true to myself. It’s going quite well. Very well actually. Now, people know there are Swedes called Ibrahimovic, not just Anderssons.
To “zlatanate” zlataner is now a verb in French. What’s your definition of this verb?
I heard about this verb. It’s already in the Swedish dictionary. I think “to zlatanate” means “to dominate.” In a positive way, I hope. It means doing something acrobatic, something different, something impossible. It can have many synonyms.
You have scored many acrobatic goals. Does taekwondo help?
This question has followed me through my whole career. Does taekwondo make soccer easier for me? Maybe. I practiced many martial arts when I was young. My father would let me watch Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Mohamed Ali. I grew up in this universe and I love delivering high kicks. You have to be careful in soccer, though. I got a penalty card because my foot was too high against the goalkeeper. But that’s my game style.
What are your objectives with Paris Saint-Germain?
I’m in Paris because everything here is fun. Something new can happen every day. The objectives are ambitious. It’s a new adventure for me. I hope that when I leave France, I will have accomplished what I accomplished everywhere else – winning and bringing home the trophies.
The only one you don’t have is the Champions League trophy. Can the PSG win it this year?
Everything is possible in soccer. We believe in a victory. Our team is new and solid team. Everything’s not perfect of course, but neither was Barcelona, the best team in the world, when I was there. We’re going to play against Valencia in the Champions League to qualify for quarterfinals. We are the first in the French championship, and aiming for the Coupe de France trophy. We’re on our way there. I’m 31 years old and I have lots of experience. I know patience is a virtue in soccer. Practice makes perfect. The pressure is very high – the club hasn’t won a title in 18 years. We have to win.