“I realized it had been tough. It had been hard. The person who was supposed to mean the most to me as a footballer had given me the cold shoulder completely, and that was worse than most stuff I’d been through. I’d been under immense pressure, and in situations like that you need your coach. What did I have? A guy who avoided me. A guy who tried to treat me as if I didn’t exist.” (I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic – p301)
Title: I am Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Author: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, told to David Lagercrantz, translated by Ruth Urbom
Publication Date: 2011 (Swedish)
Origin: I became aware of I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Simon Kuper’s Twitter (yep, Simon Kuper is one of the authors of Soccernomics).
Summary: I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic details Zlatan’s life in his own words, from his early days in Rosengard (here’s another article that gets into it) to his progress as a player from the local soccer club through some of the biggest clubs in the world (e.g., Ajax, Juventus, Barcelona), as well as his international exploits. The book leaves off just before he joins Paris Saint-Germain.
We really get to know what makes Zlatan tick, and what makes him go tick-tick-BOOM, as he also (unapologetically) explains his various dust-ups with opponents, teammates, and managers.
We also learn why he really despises Pep Guardiola…and after reading Zlatan’s take on Pep, I’m more intrigued than ever to crack open Pep Confidential.
Love him or hate him, you really can’t deny the man’s ability (his bicycle kick against England – in a game in which he scored all four of Sweden’s goals – remains the most outrageous goal I’ve ever seen; here’s an entertaining write-up), and I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic explains where that ability comes from.
My Take: To be honest, I read this book kind’ve as a break from my more intense stuff. However, I also had some genuine interest because Zlatan is a bit of an enigma (e.g., mixed reputation, scores ridiculous goals, storied career, etc.) and I wanted to know his story. That said, I didn’t expect to get many quotes out of it; I was just looking for general insight.
Once I started, though, I didn’t want to put it down. First off, let’s get it out of the way: Zlatan is a nut. There’s no doubt about it. However, when you hear his story, you start to realize that his nuttiness is largely a product of his upbringing and his attitude (for better or worse) is the reason he survived.
I always enjoy getting insight into what makes elite athletes tick, and I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic provided that and more.
Read This Book If: …You want to gain an understanding of the inner workings of professional soccer, and/or of Zlatan’s mind.
Also, go over to YouTube and just do some queries like zlatan+amazing+goal or zlatan+goal+highlights, or even just zlatan+highlights. If you haven’t seen him in action before, you’ll be floored.
Notes and Quotes:
- This is the attitude that made Zlatan a technically brilliant player while he was able to maintain his distinct style and flair, p35: “You’re supposed to respect the trainers. That’s what I reckoned. Or, more accurately, I mean, you’re supposed to listen to them and learn their stuff, zone game, tactics, all that stuff. Yet, at the same time, don’t listen. Just carry on with dribbling the ball and the tricks. Listen; don’t listen. That was my attitude.” He returns to the “Listen; don’t listen” idea many times in the story.
“Listen; don’t listen. That was my attitude.”
- There are a couple of things I like about this quote, from page 67. First, I admire how precisely he remembers the goal in his narration. Second, his unexplainable vision that there was an opportunity is no doubt the result of the physiological systems that are in place in elite athletes – these systems exist beyond conscious thought and are engaged when an athlete (or an expert in any field, for that matter) is in a ‘zone’. Anyway, here’s the quote: “Early on in the first half, I got a pass from the right. I was just outside the penalty area, and we were in our pale-blue kit. The clock read 15:37, if you go by the flickering video recording that’s up on YouTube. It was warm, but there was a good breeze blowing in from the coast, and it didn’t look like a critical situation. The play was cautious. Then I saw a gap – a chance. It was one of those images that just pop into my head, one of those flashbulb moments that whizz into your thoughts, which I’ve never been able to properly explain.”
- p97, on his pursuit of excellence: “It’s like there’s a film constantly playing in my head and I ask myself over and over, Should I have done this or that differently? I watch other people: What can I learn from them? What am I missing? I go over my mistakes all the time – along with the good stuff. What can I improve? I always, always take something with me from matches an training sessions and, of course, that’s tough sometimes. I’m never really satisfied, not even when I have reason to be, but it helps me improve.”
“I go over my mistakes all the time – along with the good stuff. What can I improve? I’m never really satisfied, not even when I have reason to be, but it helps me improve.”
- p133, on a ridiculously tough physio routine as he returned from injury: “I kept that up for two weeks, and the strange thing is, it wasn’t just hard work. There was something pleasant in that pain. I enjoyed the opportunity to exert myself to the point of exhaustion, and I started to understand what hard work means. I entered a new phase and felt stronger than I had for a long time. When I returned after my physiotherapy, I gave everything I had on the pitch, and now I started to dominate.”
- p155: “Wayne Rooney once said that when Capello walks past you in the corridor, it feels sort of like you’re dead. That’s the truth. He would usually just pick up his coffee and pass you by without so much as a glance. It was almost creepy.”
- p155: “I said that the stars in Italy don’t jump just because the coach says so. That doesn’t apply with Capello. Every single player toes the line when he shows up. People behave around Capello, and I know of a journalist who asked him about it. ‘How do you get that sort of respect from everyone?’ ‘You don’t get respect. You take it,’ Capello replied, and that’s something that’s stuck with me.”
“‘How do you get that sort of respect from everyone?’ ‘You don’t get respect. You take it,’ Capello replied, and that’s something that’s stuck with me.”
- p158: “Now, though, I was starting to realize that nobody’s going to thank you for your artistry and your back-heels if your team loses. Nobody even cares if you’ve scored a dream goal if you don’t win, and, gradually, I got to be tougher and even more of a warrior on the pitch.”
- p206: “Every team performs better when the players are united.”
- p222…I just get a real kick out of how he describes things. “The houses in that neighbourhood are usually passed down as inheritances. Daddy’s money pays, and nobody from my sort of background had moved in before. It’s all posh people, and there’s nobody who speaks like me, who says stuff like ‘the wickedest house’, and that. Here they use words like ‘distinguished’ and ‘extraordinary’.”
- p243, I guess kind’ve continuing the theme from the previous quote: “St. Moritz was for posh people. They drank champagne with breakfast. Champagne? I sat around in my pants and wanted cereal.”
- p245…illustrates the tiny margins that divide success from failure: “Our first match was against Greece. I had Sotirios Kyrgiakos on me. Kyrgiakos is a talented defender. He had long hair, which he wore in a ponytail. Every time I jumped or made a move, I got his hair in my face. I practically got hair in my mouth. He was marking me hard. He did a good job, no doubt about that. He locked me in. Then he let up for a couple, three seconds, and that was all I needed. I got a throw-in and started to dribble, and suddenly Kyrgiakos was far away, and then I got some space. I shot straight up into the top corner.”
- p249: “He would be replaced by a guy called José Mourinho. I hadn’t met him yet. But he’d already surprised me. He formed an attachment to me even before we met. He would become a guy I was willing to die for.”
- p283: “Listen; don’t listen – that’s the reason for my success.”
- p289: “A proper manager can deal with different personalities.”
“A proper manager can deal with different personalities.”
- p290, during a tense encounter with some club leadership. Good advice. “He wanted me to say something. I could tell. But I’m not stupid. I know very well: whoever talks the most in these situations comes out worst off. So I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t move a muscle.”
“He wanted me to say something. I could tell. But I’m not stupid. I know very well: whoever talks the most in these situations comes out worst off.”
- p301 holds a lesson for leaders and managers everywhere – don’t freeze people out or use avoidance tactics: “I realized it had been tough. It had been hard. The person who was supposed to mean the most to me as a footballer had given me the cold shoulder completely, and that was worse than most stuff I’d been through. I’d been under immense pressure, and in situations like that you need your coach. What did I have? A guy who avoided me. A guy who tried to treat me as if I didn’t exist.”
- p307 echoes a sentiment I’ve seen again and again in athletes’ bios: “Training sessions are just as important as matches. You can’t train soft and play aggressive. You’ve got to do battle every minute, otherwise I’ll come after you.”
“Training sessions are just as important as matches. You can’t train soft and play aggressive.”
- p320: “Still, there are a lot of people like me out there, young guys and girls who get told off because they’re not like everybody else, and sometimes, sure, they need to get told off. I believe in discipline. What makes me so angry, though, is all those coaches who’ve never fought their way to the top themselves and yet are so sure: This is how we’re going to do it, and no other way. That’s so narrow-minded. So stupid. 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. If I hadn’t been different, I wouldn’t be sitting here now.”
“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. If I hadn’t been different, I wouldn’t be sitting here now.”