Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Idiot or Genius?
With the news that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is to be commemorated with a statue, Sports Gazette takes a deeper look at the man himself and asks the question: idiot or genius?
The Swedish FA have dared to Zlatan, announcing that a statue of Sweden’s pre-eminent footballer will soon stand proudly outside Stockholm’s Friends Arena, the stadium at which Ibrahimovic single-handedly tore apart England with a four-goal haul capped off by that bicycle kick in November 2012.
The news comes in the wake of Ibrahimovic being named Sweden’s top player for the 10th consecutive season, a run extending back until 2007. Ibrahimovic also won the award in 2005, losing out to Freddie Ljungberg a year later.
The bronze statue, being made by artist Peter Linde, will commemorate the career of a man – or, as he would lead you to believe, a god – who can surely now be considered Sweden’s greatest-ever footballer.
His phenomenal goalscoring record of close-to 500 career goals is among the best ever, and his 31 trophies, including 13 league titles in four different countries, means he is one of the most decorated footballers to ever grace the game.
However, in many ways it is not his footballing exploits for which Ibrahimovic will be remembered, it is his ego. Or is it his charisma? It depends which way you look at it.
In response to hearing about the statue, Ibrahimovic said: “It’s huge for me. Most people do not get a statue until they have passed away.
“After all the hard work for 15 years in the national team, and 20 in my club career, it feels like it is appreciated” he added.
Modest acceptance from Zlatan – maybe he feels like his greatness is finally being recognised in an acceptable fashion.
In 2014, Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter ranked Ibrahimovic as the second greatest Swedish sportsperson ever, finishing behind tennis legend Bjorn Borg.
Most would see this as an honour – after all, Borg was a dominant force in tennis during the 70s and 80s, winning five consecutive Wimbledon titles among 11 Grand Slam wins, and is considered to be one of the best players ever.
“Thank you, but finishing second is like finishing last” he responded.
When asked for his own top five Swedes, Zlatan replied: “I would have been 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, with due respect to the others.”
This is far from the only time that Ibrahimovic has extolled his own virtues.
Asked who would win Sweden’s 2014 World Cup qualification play-off with Portugal, Zlatan replied “Only God knows”, to which the reporter came back: “It’s kind of hard to ask him”. The response? “Why? You’re looking at him now.”
After Sweden lost that game and his dreams of leading Sweden in a World Cup disappeared, Zlatan said: “One thing is for sure, a World Cup without me is nothing to watch.”
Away from football, Ibrahimovic was asked what he would be getting his wife for her birthday and hilariously replied: “Nothing. She already has Zlatan.”Asked who would win Sweden’s 2014 World Cup qualification play-off with Portugal, Zlatan replied “Only God knows”, to which the reporter came back: “It’s kind of hard to ask him”. The response? “Why? You’re looking at him now.””
Ibrahimovic’s innate ability to find the back of the net so regularly in his career has always been accompanied by this parallel capacity for brilliant one-liners.
This outspoken nature and supreme self-confidence have sometimes been seen to detract from his footballing achievements, but there is no denying Ibrahimovic brings massive entertainment value, both on and off the pitch.
On the pitch, there are not many who can match his achievements – only seven others have won league titles in four European leagues and only two current players can boast more career goals: Messi and Ronaldo.
Ibrahimovic has won a league title in 13 of the last 15 seasons, winning eight straight titles between 2003/4 and 2010/11, and has won a trophy every season since 2001.
He has earned countless other accolades while playing for some of the best teams in the world including Barcelona, Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan, PSG, and his current club Manchester United.
No one can say that Ibrahimovic cannot back up his big mouth with big achievements.
Off the pitch, there are other current players who talk the talk: Mario Balotelli, Nicklas Bendtner and Joey Barton to name a few, but none of them manage it with anywhere close to the nonchalance that Zlatan does.
Oh, and none of them can back it up like Zlatan can.
The truth is, in the sad world of modern football, where clubs churn out media-trained players who might as well be robots, the presence of someone like Zlatan – a truly world-class player who isn’t afraid to say what he wants – is powerfully refreshing.
To those who can’t see past the outward arrogance, by all accounts Ibrahimovic is not the prickly character his demeanour would suggest. He has been involved with charity work for the World Food Programme and he once single-handedly paid for a Swedish disabled football team to go to the World Championships.
Current manager Jose Mourinho has said: “He is a good guy. What he looks like, it is not what he is. The words he says, he says for fun.”
It is also said that he has become a great mentor for United’s younger players such as up-and-coming striker Marcus Rashford.
As Zlatan’s career has progressed, more and more people seem to have come to understand and appreciate the man’s genius.
In an Instagram post earlier this year, Zlatan posted a photo that said: ‘I need new haters, the old ones became my fans.’
With Manchester United announcing that they are extending Ibrahimovic’s contract for another season, Zlatan will no doubt continue converting haters to fans in this country.
And while the haters will no doubt keep on coming, that means another thing is for certain: so will the fans.