Zlatan Ibrahimovic: 'Who the f--- is David Beckham?'
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s autobiography may be regarded as one of the great sporting memoirs of our time, but his ghostwriter has admitted that none of the quotes came from the footballer himself.
Instead, writer David Lagercrantz said he had distilled the essence of Ibrahimovic in I Am Zlatan, a book he approached as a novel (and which features gems such as: "I was unhappy. But I carried on being brilliant").
That’s not to say Ibrahimovic can’t master the dismissive one-liner. Told that Lagercrantz had just finished reading David Beckham’s autobiography, Ibrahimovic replied: “Who the f--- is Beckham?”
In a talk at the Hay Festival, Lagercrantz – a Swedish author who is also writing a follow-up to Stieg Larsson’s Girl With A Dragon Tattoo trilogy – revealed what it was like to collaborate with Ibrahimovic.
Getting the job
“I was brought up with this highbrow father so we certainly weren’t reading ghostwritten football books in my childhood. I suddenly said yes to this crazy thing and I didn’t know anything about football. Zlatan is in a way bigger than football in Sweden. I pretended when I met Zlatan that yes, of course, I know everything.
"Then I started to read ghostwritten football books and I must say I’ve never read such boring books in my whole life. I said to myself, ‘I can’t do it.’ Then – I shouldn’t really admit it – I decided to write it as a novel. I didn’t really quote him. I started to find this literary illusion of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and then I got into writing it."
“I worked with him very thoroughly. I just asked him about things I didn’t know. Because all the goals I could see for myself, so I didn’t waste time on goals.
“I sat with him for 100 hours and that was quite an adventure. I didn’t lie. I didn’t want to make him better or nicer than he was. I said to him from the beginning, ‘You can’t be moral. Just speak out, for God’s sake.’
“I told him I had just read David Beckham’s book and that was such a boring book, actually. And he had a good answer: ‘Who the f--- is Beckham?’”
“I think it really was his true voice. The key thing is that I was not working as a journalist. I was not quoting him. I know this – if you want to find something that sounds true and authentic, the last thing you want to do is quote. I don’t think I have any real quotes from him. I tried to get an illusion of him, to try and find the story. I tried to find the literary Ibrahimovic.”
“You can imagine the moment when I, the fake Zlatan Ibrahimovic, had to send the manuscript to the real Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He wasn’t really a book reader. He doesn’t really like journalists who take liberties and I really took liberties, so you can imagine how nervous I was. I remember he said, ‘You must come to my house and speak about the book.' I was so nervous I arrived 20 minutes early, and the police came because there were rumours there was some crazy guy walking outside Zlatan’s house.
“When my father criticised me he said things like, ‘David, I’m so proud of you, you’re such a talented guy and I like your new haircut, but…” That is not the way we do it with Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The first thing he said was: “What the f--- is this? I never said this!’ But after a while I think he understood what I was trying to do. Nowadays he thinks it’s really his story.”