Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

A Modern Fairy Tale

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

A Modern Fairy Tale

Article excerpt

I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic

(With David Lagercrantz)

Penguin, 352pp, [pounds sterling]8.99

"Is there a more debased literary currency than footballers' autobiographies?" the sociologist of football David Goldblatt once asked. Fans long to know about players' lives behind the headlines, and yet you close Ashley Cole's My Defence feeling dirty and stupid for having read it. Wayne Rooney's attempts so far (for which HarperCollins paid fm) read as if written by an eight-year-old for nine-year-olds.

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What's more, to paraphrase Woody Allen, not only is the food terrible but the portions are so small: few players write autobiographies any longer. Their clubs discourage them from speaking and they no longer need the money from tell-all books.

However, the genre may now be entering a golden age. "The Secret Footballer", writing anonymously in the Guardian, offers lucid sociological accounts of dressing-room life. Arsenal's former forward Dennis Bergkamp is about to publish a memoir that promises to be intelligent. And I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic, perhaps the best recent autobiography by a footballer, has at last appeared in English.

Zlatan, as he is usually known, is a giant Swede with a ballet dancer's feet. He has won the league title in nine of his past ten seasons, with clubs in the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and France. During his present stint at Paris Saint-Germain, the verb zlataner - which more or less means "to crush" - has entered the French language. Last year he scored four goals for Sweden in a game against England. But his book shows that he has an interesting mind, too.

Within two months of publication in ion, Jag ar Zlatan Ibrahimovic had sold 500,000 hardback copies in Swedish. By now millions of copies of the book have been sold in over 20 countries. What readers respond to is, first of all, the authentic voice (captured perfectly by the ghostwriter, David Lagercrantz). Like Diego Maradona in his compelling autobiography, Zlatan calls things as he sees them--often to his detriment.

To write the book, he reflects: "I had to go back in my memory, and shit, I realised I hadn't always been a good person." Yet the onetime bicycle thief and school bully isn't presented in a vacuum. Zlatan tells an immigrant's tale that resonates across Europe as he guides us through the milieu of top-level football.

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His parents, a violent Croatian charwoman and a drunken Bosnian janitor, separated when he was two. He was raised in Rosengard, a deprived area of Malmo. Almost everyone around him was an immigrant, so he grew up knowing almost nothing about Sweden. He never watched Swedish TV, didn't visit the city centre until he was nearly 17, and lusted from afar after the blonde Swedish girls who lived in actual houses somewhere far from Rosengard. He imagined their parents saying, "Darling, could you please pass me the milk? …

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