Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of most iconic names in football – something the man himself, famed for his limitless self-assurance, would surely not only corroborate but probably even propose. After all, this is the man who has referred to himself as a god and whose new book is titled I Am Football. There is no denying the fact that, in part because of this brazen chutzpah, Ibrahimovic has always been something of a divisive figure, both on and off the pitch, not only for spectators and media, but also amongst his own teammates and coaches, but the one thing that is unquestionable is his record.
Amongst other teams, Ibrahimovic has played for seven of the biggest clubs in football history – Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan, PSG and Manchester United. He has scored goals at for every team he has played for, in impressive quantities and important moments, racking up over 500 in total, and continues to do so at the age of 37 for LA Galaxy. He has won over thirty trophies with the teams he has played in, including league championships in four of the biggest competitions in the world (Eredivisie, Serie A, La Liga, and Ligue 1) as well as countless other individual awards. His records include being the only player to have played in the Champions League with seven teams (although the one black mark in his tally is the failure to win the competition), the only player to have scored in derbies in six countries and the only player to score in his first five league matches for Barcelona – records that neither the generation’s two leading players, Messi and Ronaldo, cannot match. And this book charts each of these milestones in Ibrahimovic’s journey from Malmo to Manchester United.
The chapters focus sequentially on each of the eight clubs he played for from 1999 to 2018, opening with a snapshot of his match, minutes, goals and assists stats, a picture and a Zlatan quote before an introduction to the context of each moment in Ibrahimovic’s career, which is followed up with images and quotes from the man himself, as well as contributions from teammates and coaches before a concluding assessment on his time at each club. It’s a really appealing and easy-to-read approach. But what really sells this book and makes it stand out from the crowd is the incredible design and finish of it – it’s clearly been lovingly and artistically put together, and rather than your average hardback sports autobiography, this has the appearance and gravitas, dare I say it, of something more akin to a bible. It is a book that visually grabs you and makes it clear its subject matter is intended to be viewed as something special, extraordinary. It’s a format that very much fits with a man who wants to make his mark, to turn heads, but it’s more than just a gimmick, it is genuinely a really stylish, well-packaged and put together creation, that, to my mind, suggests a refreshing, contemporary direction that sports books could take in the future to really develop the genre. Huge praise therefore must go to the creative and design team behind it, which includes Graphic Designer Sebastian Wadsted and Project Manager Martin Ransgart. There is nothing especially overly fussy or fancy inside the pages, just simple but hugely effective use of colours, spreads and imagery to create a beautiful, minimalist, sleek look. Even the way, the statistics – or rather Zlatistics (their word, not mine) – are displayed in a comprehensive chapter at the end of the book is engaging and visually appealing.
In terms of the content itself, the range of voices, from the book’s editor to Ibrahimovic’s teammates and coaches to the man himself, make for a more complete read. And whilst I am not sure this book will completely change perceptions about Ibrahimovic, it certainly gives a more rounded view of the man – no person, after all, is completely one thing, but Ibrahimovic, for whatever reason, has often been cast as the villain. The contributions from his teammates, and to some extent his coaches, are perhaps the most telling in their breakdown of this judgement. These are the people who spent the most time with him, day in, day out, who knew him off the pitch and on it, and their assessments – from greats such as Thierry Henry and Andrea Pirlo – are all markedly similar: Ibrahimovic, they all effectively concur, is indeed a strong personality, but above all a special footballing talent and a team player on the pitch, and off it, he is a funny and likeable character – very different to the troublemaker he has often been portrayed as. There is no denying his ego, many of the quotes from the man himself ooze it, but while some call it arrogance, the contributors tend to see it as self-confidence – a requisite for success. And success is exactly what Ibrahimovic has achieved throughout his two decades at the very top of the game. So maybe, as the title of the book suggests, he is, after all, football. There are definitely few who could argue with the Zlatistics.