Friday 17 November 2017

A triumph of single-mindedness

Manchester United's Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Photo: Matthew Ashton/ AMA/Getty Images
Manchester United's Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Photo: Matthew Ashton/ AMA/Getty Images

Joe Molloy

Even today, Zlatan Ibrahimovic hates it when his fridge is empty. It goes back to childhood days in Rosengard and living with his father. The fridge was empty then, a lot.

He recalls, in his autobiography, arriving home after hours of football and stealing bikes "Hungry as a wolf. I'd fling open the cupboard doors and think 'Please, please let there be something there, but no, nothing'."

His father was going through a difficult time; there was mainly beer and Yugoslavian folk music in the dark. But Zlatan still loved his father. He is, after all, much more interesting and multi-faceted than the cocky, Muhammad Ali-inspired quotes.

He is a triumph of single-mindedness. Zlatan ignored the coaches at Malmo.

He was also very technically oriented. "Maths was dead easy. Just bam and bam! The answer just came to me. It was a bit like on a football pitch. Images and solutions came to me in a flash."

Indeed, the teachers thought he was cheating at maths. Crucially, like his Rosengard mates, he was obsessed with skills and dribbling. Coaches and team-mates bemoaned his obsession with nailing a new trick, often at the expense of team play.

Most people succumb to overwhelming consensus. But for Zlatan, "Winning was not the most important thing. The most important things were nice moves".

His heroes were Romario and Ronaldo. He didn't know the Swedish players growing up. He played football on the PlayStation and tried to bring the moves into real life. Even at Ajax, where he struggled early on after a record transfer fee, "I didn't give up my style. Nobody was going to get rid of what made my game my own."

How do you cultivate that type of player? How can we mimic those conditions and see more Zlatans? The answer, as he will tell you himself, is we can't. So just enjoy the magic.

Irish Independent

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