‘I came from Planet Zlatan’ – Ibrahimovic on Pogba, life in LA and his ‘ugly’ feet
In the space of one sentence during his interview with BBC Sport, Zlatan Ibrahimovic refers to himself in the third person three times.
Other footballers – other people – wouldn’t be able get away with such a self-aggrandising habit, but Zlatan can because, well, he’s Zlatan.
The Swedish striker’s CV includes many of Europe’s biggest clubs – Ajax, Juventus, Barcelona, both Milan sides, Paris St-Germain and Manchester United. He has scored goals in spectacular number and nature, and has spoken just as explosively and freely wherever he has been.
He has won 25 major club trophies during his career, is his country’s all-time record goalscorer and has an individual honours list on Wikipedia that is 43 entries long.
The latest of these solo gongs come from his debut season in Major League Soccer (MLS), where his typically superb displays for LA Galaxy earned him a place in the league’s best XI and the newcomer of the year award. He also claimed the goal of the season for a truly stunning 40-yard strike. On his debut. In the LA derby. To level the score at 3-3. Just to ensure everyone was paying attention, he then scored the game’s winner in the 91st minute.
BBC Radio 5 live’s Football Daily spoke to the 37-year-old about scoring goals, his time at Manchester United, choosing LA and hanging pictures of his “ugly” feet on the wall…
Zlatan on scoring goals
“In the beginning it was not about scoring goals, it was about who had the best skills, the best technique and I brought that with me wherever I went. A certain point came when it was: ‘Listen, this is high level, you need to perform, you are a striker, you need to give us goals and if you don’t score I don’t need you’,” he said, speaking at the launch of his book ‘I am Football’.
“That changed when I came to Juventus. Everything was new for me. I was like, ‘Wow, big club, big players, big coach, big history’.
“From the first day after training I heard [then coach] Fabio Capello scream ‘Ibra!’ and he just pointed. He had taken guys from the academy and youth team and I trained with them. They gave crosses and I scored.
“Every day for 30 minutes, sometimes I just wanted to go home because I was tired and did not want to shoot any more – I didn’t want to see the goal or the goalkeeper. I would just hear ‘Ibra!’ and I knew what it was. I was shooting, just shooting, good shots, bad shots.
“In the end I became a machine, in front of goal, score a goal, especially in Italy as a striker it is the most difficult position because they are so tactically good.
“I remember a game against Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta [AC Milan] – you only get a half chance and behind them you have Dida, a world-class goalkeeper, but I had that luck that I had Gianluigi Buffon as a training partner and in front of him was Lilian Thuram and Fabio Cannavaro. If you ever got past them you had pain and then you had to get past Buffon, so I had a good environment to score goals and the goals would come as long as you trained.”
On moving to England
“When I went to England I was talking to different players that I knew well and trusted that would give me an honest opinion. From all of them everyone said ‘do not do it’, they said it would not be good for my career because you put your whole career on one season. If you do not do a good season people will say the rest of the things you did before were useless because you didn’t make it in England, but that triggered me and that’s the challenge I wanted.
“I went against everyone and said that’s what I wanted to do. They thought I was too old, I was 35 and I made the Premier League look old. It took me three months to convince everyone who I was. That was the challenge and I never turn down a challenge.”
On Paul Pogba and the Premier League
“I miss all of them. I had a fantastic time at United. Wazza [Wayne Rooney], Michael Carrick, then the young guys that wanted to show the world who they are by playing football and they had a lot of hunger to show. I had a good time because I got to know everyone, I was the mature guy with all these guys who were not mature.
“Paul Pogba, I had never played with him before and I didn’t know him as a person. We have the same management and when I got to know him I got to find a fantastic person and a fantastic footballer, but someone who needs to be guided.
“He is a professional guy that works every game and never misses training or a game. Those are all the things that people do not see, you only get judged by what you can see on television or the 90 minutes in the stadium, that’s where you have to perform.
“When you click with someone it just clicks. The connection on the field was amazing, we helped each other very well, I needed him and he needed me. The first year at United we had a fantastic year.
“They made me feel like Benjamin Button. I was getting younger and younger, then unfortunately I got my injury.
“The Premier League should be happy I did not come 10 years ago because it would’ve been a different story. You see all my numbers [of goals] and all of these numbers would’ve been in the Premier League. I came to the right club in United. It was the club and the shirt that I was supposed to shine in and I did it.”
“When it happened I did not understand what I was going through, I had never had a serious injury. I was like Superman, I was unbreakable and no-one could break me, only Zlatan could injure Zlatan.
“I said, ‘This is not the way I want to stop playing football. The way I walked in is the way I will walk out, not by limping or someone saying it’s over’. This was a new challenge for me and I said I would come back when I was ready and I would play exactly as I did before. When I cannot do that I will not continue in football because I’m not here for charity.
“After my injury, when I was selected, I said to Jose Mourinho, ‘I do not want to disappoint you or my team-mates. You had a Zlatan before the injury and you had one after the injury and I cannot give you the Zlatan that you are used to, that’s why I will not give you this Zlatan because I’m not ready.’
“My second year at United, I was not feeling ready, I was feeling different, it was like I was starting at zero and I had to teach my knee how to play football again. After a while my confidence grew, I needed a new environment to feel that I was comfortable.”
On life in LA
“We [Ibrahimovic and his wife] had talked about it and she said one day I would like to see how it is to live in LA, that was one of the many factors when I chose LA. LA did not choose me, I chose LA.
“They are happy to be here, there’s less stress, if I can be negative the time difference is too big because of all my family from Sweden and I only have a short time to connect with them.”
On arriving in LA, Ibrahimovic took out a full-page advert in the LA Times which read, “Dear Los Angeles. You’re welcome”.
“I felt I was giving them something they did not have before and I gave myself as a present to them. They did understand what I was and all the things I said would happen. It took 10 minutes to present myself in a way I did in my first game at the Galaxy and they understood what I had given them.”
On his feet
“My wife does not allow me to have pictures of myself. She says, ‘There is already enough talk of you and I don’t want to see you on the walls, it is enough that I see you in real life’.
“There is one of my feet on the wall. That is what has given us what we have, it is a reminder for the family, not for me, of what we have. That is what has created the whole situation, the whole buzz around me – the two feet.
“I play this beautiful sport with my feet. Even if it is ugly toes, we don’t care – we put it on the wall just as a reminder, we have food to eat thanks to those feet so you should kiss those feet every day – no, I’m joking. Every footballer’s toes and feet around the world are ugly – there is no beautiful out there.”
On Planet Zlatan
“I came from my own planet, with something that no one has seen. I’m a guy from this area that they think is the ghetto. They saw me differently, they did not make me feel welcome, they did not make me feel like everyone else, but I came with something else and now they follow that. I came from my own planet – Planet Zlatan.”