Swedish Superstar Ibrahimovic 'Guardiola Has No Balls'
Swedish soccer superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic talked to SPIEGEL about his childhood living in the "ghetto," his beef with Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola and the creative potential of the German national team.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic shows up an hour late for the interview. Sweden's best-known sporting figure strolls casually into the lobby of the Scandic Park Hotel in Stockholm. He's accompanied by his wife of 11 years Helena, an "evil super bitch deluxe," as he says. Their sons Maximilian and Vincent, age seven and five respectively, are also there. Vincent is sporting a Mohawk haircut and nerd glasses. Ibrahimovic is wearing worn jeans and a red hooded sweatshirt.
A football star, he is one of the best strikers in the world. In the past 12 seasons his teams have been champions of their respective countries 10 times. He has won titles in the Netherlands with Ajax, in Italy with Juventus, Inter and AC Milan, in Spain with Barcelona and, most recently, in France with his current team, Paris Saint-Germain (PSG). In clinching the French championship last year, he scored 30 goals in 34 games. His father came to Sweden from Bosnia; his mother from Croatia. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was born in Malmo and grew up in the city's tough Rosengard district. His autobiography, "I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic," was released in June in English and on Oct. 1 in German translation by publisher Malik Verlag. Some 675,000 copies have already been sold in Sweden. Ibrahimovic is arrogant, eccentric and unwieldy.
SPIEGEL recently sat down with the football player for an hour-long interview.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Ibrahimovic, is it true that you know a lot about bicycles?
Ibrahimovic: I think you could say that, yes.
SPIEGEL: What is the best way to steal a bicycle?
Ibrahimovic: That depends on the lock. It's easiest in the dark, when no one can see you. But it's not as exciting then.
SPIEGEL: Were you talented?
Ibrahimovic: I would say I was quite a talented thief. I swiped a lot of bicycles.
Ibrahimovic: Well, it was a long way to the football field, and at some point I asked myself: Why the hell do you always go there on foot? My father didn't have any money to buy me a bicycle -- so I took one. Incidentally, it was later stolen from me while I was at school. I stole another. And that went on and on. Once there was this wonderful bicycle, which belonged to the postman, and he hadn't locked it.
SPIEGEL: The fool.
Ibrahimovic: Yes I mean: no. In actual fact I was the fool. When the man disappeared in the entrance with the post, I jumped into the saddle and rode off. Once I got round the corner, I stopped and looked inside the saddle bags. There were letters inside. So I said to myself: No, you can't do this. So I parked the bicycle and ran away. I was young. A child.
SPIEGEL: You were no longer that young when you were playing for Ajax Amsterdam in the Champions League and stole from Ikea.
Ibrahimovic: I was there with a friend. We were on our way to the checkout and one of the transport carts with our shopping on it didn't stop, but just kept on rolling. When the cart was almost past the lady at the till, I gave it another push.
SPIEGEL: It can't have been for want of money.
Ibrahimovic: It was about the kick. When I go into a supermarket these days with my old friends, they will open their jackets afterwards in the car, and all sorts of stuff will fall out. I say to them: Are you out of your mind? I could buy the entire shop. But that's not the point. They do it for fun. That's how we grew up. I have become more sensible, and I am rich. But I will never be able to deny where I came from. How does the saying go? You can get the boy out of the ghetto, but you can't get the ghetto out of the boy.
SPIEGEL: Did you often get into fights as an adolescent?
Ibrahimovic: Yes, often. Where I come from, you don't call the police when there's a problem. You sort it out between yourselves.
SPIEGEL: What about school?
Ibrahimovic: Sometimes I only went there for lunch, sometimes not at all. I preferred to play football.
SPIEGEL: Did you have it easier on the field?
Ibrahimovic: My neighborhood, Rosengard, was home to Turks, Yugoslavs, Palestinians and Poles. I was 16 when I first went to the city centre of Malmo; I never watched Swedish TV. My teammates at (football club) Malmo FF were called Mattisson, Persson or Ohlsson. I was an outsider. My coach wanted me to play in a way that served the team: making simple passes, and running more. I thought to myself: Fuck you, if I can dribble round three players, I'm going to do it. I am never going to be a real Swede anyway, so why should I play like one? The coach often took me off the pitch. My teammates had an easier time. They were blond, played in a way that served the team, and they ran. But instead of giving up, I became angry and tried to become even better. That is what made me the player I am.
SPIEGEL: Do you have to be angry in order to play well?
Ibrahimovic: Yes. Back then there was no one to show me a path. I had to build my own road. I was driven by anger.
SPIEGEL: And what is it like today?
Ibrahimovic: That's a part of me. It's not easy to motivate yourself every day. Sometimes I get up in the morning and think to myself: Fuck, I have got to play again. Fortunately I get worked up easily, even about small things.
SPIEGEL: When you were playing for Ajax, the former striker Marco van Basten advised you never to listen to a coach. One gets the impression that you have been following that advice until now.
Ibrahimovic: It's easy for him to talk; he's a legend. Van Basten thought I would help my team by attacking, not by defending. He was right.
SPIEGEL: You don't like playing defense, do you?
Ibrahimovic: It doesn't suit me. Wherever I go, there's someone getting worked up about it. Every coach thinks he knows better. And another person running around at Ajax was Louis van Gaal. He was the technical director, and he took a pencil to explain to me where I should be running. I told him: Listen, buddy, I don't need to listen to you -- go back to your office and write some letters! His manner really got on my nerves.
SPIEGEL: Van Gaal later sold you against the coach's wishes.
Ibrahimovic: I had an argument with Rafael van der Vaart. He claimed I had deliberately fouled and injured him. I told van Gaal: I've apologized to Rafael but he just won't stop hassling me; he is my captain and he is attacking me -- if that guy is playing, I'm not.
SPIEGEL: How did van Gaal reply?
Ibrahimovic: He ordered me to play. I said: No, fuck off. A week later I was playing for Juventus. You need to have a feel for your fellow men -- van Gaal doesn't.
SPIEGEL: You once mocked Pep Guardiola, your coach at Barcelona, for being a "philosopher". Why do you object to the man?
Ibrahimovic: Guardiola is a fantastic coach. But as a person? He is a coward. He is not a man. During the first months at Barcelona, everything was fine. I scored lots of goals. After that, he avoided me. He hardly spoke to me any more, and he didn't choose me to play any more.
SPIEGEL: Why not?
Ibrahimovic: You'll have to ask him! I don't know.
SPIEGEL: Perhaps he noticed that your style of playing did not fit his own ideas of football.
Ibrahimovic: No idea. You tell me! You know what I think?
Ibrahimovic: That he sacrificed me for Lionel Messi. And he didn't have the courage to tell me. Guardiola has no balls. Messi is a brilliant player, no question about it, but I scored more goals than he did. Messi complained to Guardiola, and that's a problem -- Messi is his star. Suddenly, Guardiola didn't want me playing alongside Messi any more, but in front of him. He wanted me to run up and down the pitch. I can do that, but not for long. I weigh 100 kilograms (220 pounds); after four or five sprints, I'm tired.
SPIEGEL: Did you tell him that?
Ibrahimovic: I told him: If I don't fit in here, just say the word -- and I'll be gone. I didn't go to Barcelona to cause problems. Guardiola sweet-talked me: Ibra, you're wonderful, you are doing everything right. But he still put me on the substitute's bench.
- Part 1: 'Guardiola Has No Balls'
- Part 2: 'A Coach Must Convince His Players'