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REVIEW: I Am Zlatan: My Story On and Off the...

I Am Zlatan: My Story On and Off the Field by Zlatan Ibrahimovic

I read an excerpt of this book on Deadspin and thought, what the heck. I’m bored with romance these days and entranced by the World Cup. I know very little about fútbol and spend most of the World Cup games asking the television what is going on and why no one ever tells me how much time is left in the match.

But I can’t stop watching despite the non stop irritation I have without knowing how much time is left in the game and I’ve gained some understanding such as what offsides means. I won’t say that this book lent me insight into the game so much as it gives an individual a peak inside the mind of a driven athlete at the top of his game. Some reviewers have said this is an immigrant’s tale although Zlatan was born in Sweden.

The memoir chronicles Zlatan’s rise from Swedish poverty to international soccer superstardom. He doesn’t hesitate to identify those he thinks were incompetent such as his Barcelona coach, Pep Guardiola (then he got started on his philosophizing. I was barely listening. Why should I? That was advanced bullshit, about blood, sweat, and tears), and those he loved like the Inter Milan and REAL Madrid coach, José Mourinho, who he declared in the book he would die for and whose approval he sought in every game (“He built us up before matches. It was like theater, a psychological game. He might show videos where we’d played badly and say, “Look at this. So miserable! Hopeless! Those guys can’t even be you. They must be your brothers, your inferior selves,” and we nodded, we agreed. We were ashamed.”)

If Mourinho lights up a room, Guardiola draws the curtains.

After I read the book, I googled and read a few interviews with Zlatan. It seems clear to me he enjoys playing up the uber arrogant fútbol player persona but his actions are a mix of arrogance and boyish need for affirmation. On the one hand he wants you to know he’s arrived and on the other he’s constantly trying to prove himself. Other top tier athletes are notorious for stoking petty grievances into serious offenses for the sole purpose of keeping them hungry and motivated. Zlatan is no different. He stokes his anger, his feeling of inferiority, and his desire to be recognized into an on field rage that propels him down the field scoring goals like the one below.

I was the soccer star, but also the frightened kid in the tunnel again, the one who thought he’d make it if he just ran fast enough.

He’ll use anything, even the smallest slight–real or imagined–to win again. If you aren’t the type of person he admired, he didn’t think much of you and he definitely had a type he admired. He admires those who win at all costs. He admires strength but at the same time seems to be constantly testing those boundaries as if to say are you strong enough to stand with me? He admires skill, obviously, but he also is respectful of those he believed were more clever than he. I think that’s how he views Helena, his life partner.

The story of his romance with Helena, a career woman ten years his senior, read like a Harlequin. He saw her step out of cab, spitting angry and wondered to himself who is this woman? Initially she did not want to have anything to do with him. She wore suits and he ran around in his warmup gear.

She’d left home when she was seventeen and worked her way up, and I wasn’t exactly a superstar to her. Or as she put it, “Come on, Zlatan, you weren’t exactly Elvis who’d beamed in.” I was just a crazy guy to her who wore hideous clothes and was totally immature, and sometimes she’d tease me a bit.

He acted (admittedly) like a child, setting off fireworks and living in a swamp of messy clothes, video games, and trash.

…sometimes I just don’t know how she managed to be so patient with me. She’d been saddled with a little maniac. But she managed, she was strong, and I think she got to see some results too.

They kept their romance as secret as possible because Helena didn’t want the attention. And the press never really caught on because although she is a gorgeous blonde, she didn’t fit the football wife prototype. Even Zlatan felt that Helena was a stabilizing force in his life and he seems to also acknowledge she sacrificed a lot to be with him.

Eschewing alcohol because his father is alcoholic and drugs because he knows he has an addictive personality, Zlatan collects cars, sometimes watches (there’s an absolutely charming story about a watch, a stockbroker, a video game and what Helena calls Zlatan’s internet date), and video games. Zlatan is probably playing Call of Duty right now although he tries not to talk so as to not give himself away.

Zlatan acknowledges that he made mistakes, such as when he let his anger get the best of him causing him to be banned for a few games. Is he a good teammate? Perhaps not but he loves to win and he puts every ounce of himself out on the pitch to win but he also seems to be in it for himself, to win personal achievements, to strike off certain championships from his bucket list of wins. He doesn’t hesitate to rub in his success, but I wonder if that is partly due to him wondering if he belongs.

There had been a lot of Marco van Basten in my life. I’d inherited his shirt number and I was supposed to resemble him on the pitch and all that, and sure, it was flattering. I was starting to get tired of it, though. I didn’t want to be a new van Basten. I was Zlatan, nothing else. I wanted to scream, No, don’t bring that guy up again, I’ve heard enough about him. Sure, it was as cool as anything when he turned up in person—it was like, Wow! Is he talking to me?

When I was writing this review, I kept thinking that Zlatan is the type to go around and comment on reviews, disagreeing with the interpretation. 99% of the book seems like a response–a set the story straight sort of thing–to combat all that has been written about him in the press from the blow up with Guardiola (he deserved it)  to the kicking teammate Antonio Cassano in the head (it was a love tap).

It was absolutely the right book to read during the fervor of the  World Cup. Apparently Zlatan said that this year’s World Cup would be better if he was in it but Sweden was edged out in qualifying rounds to Portugal and thus we’ll miss the potential for kicks like this.

As sports memoirs go, this book was incredibly entertaining and very genuine. While Zlatan’s interpretation of events may be colored by his own selective memory and interpretation, it definitely felt honest. For fans of memoirs and fans of sports, I’d recommend this. I was riveted. B

~Jane

* I know Zlatan was insulting about the US’s team but perhaps Tim Howard’s performance won him over.

 

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

19 Comments

  1. marjorie
    Jul 09, 2014 @ 11:14:45

    “i woont to give him a man-hoog!” oh how i love those soccer commentators.

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  2. Amanda
    Jul 09, 2014 @ 11:19:45

    I thought this was a great World Cup read too! My husband and I just generally enjoy quoting “I am Zlatan” at each other at home. Its just a fun name to say :)

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  3. Melanie Ting
    Jul 09, 2014 @ 11:29:53

    Not something I would have ever considered reading, but your review makes it sound quite appealing. However, I anticipate arguments from the Barcelona fans in my life.

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  4. Jane
    Jul 09, 2014 @ 11:31:10

    @Melanie Ting: I’m definitely an outsider with no oars in the water but as a memoir, it was intriguing and definitely made me want to watch him play.

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  5. Jorrie Spencer
    Jul 09, 2014 @ 11:32:16

    I read this last year, and found it compelling as well—an interesting window on soccer, Sweden, growing up poor.

    Right now I’m reading Pep Guardiola’s biography by Guillem Balagué, and it too is an entertaining read. Makes me think soccer writing is right up there. (Zlatan has barely been mentioned, although there is probably more to come. That said, he’s certainly not in any way the focus of the book.) European football is a fascinating world.

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  6. marjorie
    Jul 09, 2014 @ 11:50:31

    Amanda: Do you say “I am Zlatan” in an intense hoarse whisper, like “I’m Batman”?

    Here is an excellent compilation of Zlatan’s craziest goals:
    http://deadspin.com/nearly-eight-minutes-of-zlatan-ibrahimovic-scoring-amaz-1458885486

    And if you’re into sports bios (and especially if you’re not) I enjoyed pitcher R.A. Dickey’s memoir VERY much (reviewed it here: http://www.sorrywatch.com/2013/01/07/radickey/) and really liked mediocre football player Nate Jackson’s posts on Deadspin (great insights about football as a business, and funny, and full of drugs…but his memoir wasn’t nearly as open and honest as Dickey’s, and he comes off as a sexist dipshit), and I keep meaning to read Chris Kluwe’s Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies, because he is SO smart and funny and has been such a great LGBT rights advocate.

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  7. Estara Swanberg
    Jul 09, 2014 @ 12:17:46

    @Jorrie Spencer: I so totally adore that you need to add “European” ^^. In my life in the countries I’ve been in, it never was needed, and I always have to add “American” when I talk about what you guys do, hehehe, because of course football is played with feet ;-)

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  8. Sirius
    Jul 09, 2014 @ 12:31:08

    I love futbol. Sold :)

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  9. Cheryl
    Jul 09, 2014 @ 13:23:54

    Zlatan has certainly created one hell of a persona. And I what I like about him is how he pokes fun at himself. Nike has a entire series of “Zlatan says” ads, which crack me up. And on the “Risk Everything” commercial that’s like a five minute movie, he rolls up, pushes the kid out of the way and says “Zlatan thinks Zlatan should take the kick.”

    I’ve always found him to be entertaining. And if you can back up the smack talk with the skill, well then…

    In soccer, the clock always runs forward and is cumulative. At the professional level they play 45 minute halves so the clock runs to 45 min in the first half, then picks up in the second half going to 90 minutes. Extra time may be added near the end due to injuries and such. And if it goes to over time (which is an additional 30 minutes) the clock runs until 120 minutes. Hope that helps. :)

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  10. Kati
    Jul 09, 2014 @ 13:33:35

    Is this guy the inspiration for the ridiculous cartoons that Sports Center is showing every day during the World Cup? I have to imagine he is. I know NOTHING about soccer/futbal, except that Tim Howard was a stud in the US’s last game and Germany beat the pants off of Brazil yesterday.

    And there’s 5 weeks until American football starts.

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  11. Janine
    Jul 09, 2014 @ 13:35:56

    Great review!!! I’m really tempted to read this now, and I am not a big reader of memoirs (but I do so love futbol). BTW, Slate has a hilarious post explaining the rules of the game to newbies, complete with YouTube links and funny, funny jokes.

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  12. Brie
    Jul 09, 2014 @ 14:05:35

    I’m a Barça fan, so take this with a grain of salt, but I can justify not liking Guardiola (especially because Ibrahimović’s time with the team was a failure). Liking Mourinho, on the other hand, makes him look like a bag of dicks (not that he needed help with that).

    *adds this comment to list of things I never thought I would say at Dear Author*

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  13. Jane
    Jul 09, 2014 @ 14:26:47

    @marjorie: That was entertaining. Thanks!

    @Kati: Yes, same guy. Looks like he’s a character in the Mulan movie?

    ReplyReply

  14. Ani Gonzalez
    Jul 09, 2014 @ 14:37:45

    This sounds like a great book. I’ll buy it just for the Mourinho-Guardiola gossip. I remember a taxi driver in Madrid telling me that, for once, the Real Madrid fans and the Atlético fans (their local and very bitter rivals) were united as one: they all hated Mourinho.

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  15. Sunita
    Jul 09, 2014 @ 15:09:29

    What a great review, Jane, you make me want to read this even though I’m kind of full up on soccer nonfiction right now.

    I don’t know anyone who follows soccer who likes Mourinho (I suppose some do when he’s coaching their team). The Special One is indeed … special.

    For people who are particularly interested in Spanish football, Sid Lowe, who is a terrific reporter for the Guardian, has a book out on the Barça-RM rivalry, titled Fear and Loathing in La Liga. I haven’t read it yet but it’s received some excellent reviews, and if his Twitter and Football Weekly contributions are any indication, I believe them.

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  16. marjorie
    Jul 09, 2014 @ 15:27:31

    I love this site’s commenters.

    If you have NYT access, Christophe Niemann’s strange and beautiful animated story about his trip to the World Cup and Brazil’s curse is wonderful.

    http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/06/08/magazine/world-cup-curse-of-maracana.html

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  17. Janine
    Jul 09, 2014 @ 20:11:23

    @marjorie: Thank you Marjorie, I loved that.

    ReplyReply

  18. Lin
    Jul 10, 2014 @ 07:41:10

    Ah, yes… Marco van Basten… **swoons**

    Sounds like an interesting read, but since Holland list in the semi finals to Argentina last night, football is a bit of a sore spot, right now :)

    I really liked Agassi’s autobiography as well.

    ReplyReply

  19. Melanie Ting
    Jul 16, 2014 @ 07:42:20

    Thanks for this review, I bought the book and enjoyed it a lot. Although his POV was very one-sided, there were also subtle hints of regret and explanation to balance out the story.

    ReplyReply

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