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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Book Review: "I AM FOOTBALL" by Zlatan Ibrahimović with Mats Olsson


"I AM FOOTBALL" by Zlatan Ibrahimović with Mats Olsson.
Image credit:
Penguin Books Ltd. and Viking.
Synopsis:

Zlatan Ibrahimović, with Mats Olsson, presents his career autobiography that chronicles a journey from his childhood in Malmö, Sweden, to his most recent destination in Los Angeles, California. 

My Review in Brief:

From Malmö to Milan, from Ajax to the Galaxy, with many other stops along the way, the Zlatan Express has roared across world football leaving behind an indelible imprint of audacious talent, brutal honesty, legendary goals, sensational media quotes, tremendous self-belief, 33 trophies, and most of all, hundreds of spell-bound and bewildered opponents in its quake.

Ibrahimović, to quote Massimo Moratti of Internazionale many years ago, "is the ultimate professional." He embodies street smarts, hard work, high intelligence along with his prodigious multi-lingual communication skills. 

If a trophy were ever awarded for professionalism to one's craft, it would have Zlatan's name on it. The ultimate professional and a winner with a capital W.  --- Steve Amoia, World Football Commentaries

Contents:

1. Unique Format
2. Writing Style
3. Compelling Images
4. A Few Notable Quotes

"This is a book about my journey in the service of football. Quite the journey, isn't it? There aren't many players who can compare to me... How did I get there? Above all, I never gave up. Even when no one else believed in me, I kept on battling...

But despite the resistance I encountered from some people who didn't understand me, who could only see problems, there's always been someone in each team who has supported me, helped me and given me a chance...

Work hard, conduct yourself properly, be serious and stay focused. That is the advice I can give."

--- Zlatan Ibrahimović, author of Jag är fotboll ("I AM FOOTBALL"), quoted in the Foreword, published in November 2018 by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Books Ltd., with a list price of £25.

I recall the first time I saw this big, tall, technically-gifted Swedish player with the strange name. It was the Euro 2004 group round match versus the Azzurri. Zlatan scored an audacious backheel winner that ultimately put the sword to the Italians in the tournament. A few months later, he transferred to Juventus from Ajax, and the rest as they say, was history.

With thirty-three trophies, eight club teams and the national team of Sweden, Zlatan Ibrahimović has indeed travelled a long journey in world football. I struggle to recall any modern-day player such as he who has had as much influence on the pitch as off of it. 

This book is encyclopedic in presentation, both in imagery and text, and as unique as its protagonist. We witness the ascent of a world-class player who has challenged himself every step of the way. 

Many words have been used to describe Zlatan. Professionalism is one that we don't hear with enough frequency. At every stop in his tremendous career, he gave 100 percent for the shirt on his back, the club President who paid his wages, along with some of the most elite managers in world football. For me, that is the epitome of a true professional.

Let's take a longer look at this provocative, educational and entertaining book.

1. Unique Format

The book itself is physically heavy similar to a law school text or an encyclopedia. The tactile feel immediately tells you that this is going to be a unique reading experience. There are 256 pages of text according to the publisher although it seems much longer.

This book is not structured in the usual fashion with sequential chapters and page numbers. There is a Forward by Zlatan, his Dream XI, followed by lengthy sections for each of his professional clubs (with the exception of the LA Galaxy.) To cap things off, we have the brilliant addition of "Zlatistics," which documents every professional game he has ever played in acute detail. Did you know that he has converted 88.60 percent from the spot over his long career? Now you will along with a voluminous amount of other statistics.


2. Writing Style
Personal Tone

Zlatan communicates in a personal, engaging and detailed style. I saw him appear on an American television talk show and he said, "I was taught never to lie." You see that quality in this book.

Zlatan paints a true portrait of himself with observations and insights about every club where he has played. He is secure in his place in this world. His attitude is a refreshing one: Facts and not opinions. After reading many of his recollections with famous managers, we see his intellect at work with a nearly verbatim memory of exact conversations.

I liked how he personalized interactions with players and coaches. They provided rare views how football works at these high levels instead of media-inspired, and often untrue, "training ground bust-ups," for page views or to sell newspapers. For example, this one with his boss at Juventus, Fabio Capello:

" 'I'm going to bash that Ajax-bullshit out of you,' he said... 

And so he'd stand me in front of goal, every day for two whole seasons, practising my finishing. After training, when everyone was heading for the showers, I'd hear him roar: 'Ibraaaa!' and then just point. He didn't say much, it was more this power he had. It was enough for him just to look at me..." --- Quoted in the section about Juventus FC.

Or about a meeting with Josep "Pep" Guardiola:

"Then he started talking about me not playing much next season. I'll be on the bench, all that. 'No problem,' I said. 'I'll just train harder. I'm going to show you that you've got it wrong.' It was obvious that he didn't know how to react, he got a bit ... not cold sweats, but he didn't really know what to say. So he kept going: 'Just so you know, when we play Real Madrid you're going to be on the bench.'

I was supposed to say, 'I want to leave,' because if I said it myself he would be able to blame me." --- Quoted in the section about FC Barcelona.

Interviewing Masterclass by Mats Olsson

Mats Olsson is a Swedish journalist based in New York City. He has covered Zlatan's career from the start. His contribution to this book was significant both from a journalistic aspect along with a personal one. His interviews with managers who knew Zlatan from the very beginning, such as Roland Andersson and Ronald Koeman, and during his ascent to a world-class player, such as José Mourinho, provided an added bonus. Mats also had discussions with many star teammates of Zlatan such as Thierry Henry, Henrik Larsson, Andrea Pirlo and Patrick Vieira, respectively.

These interviews, and other written contributions made by the co-author, added a journalistic structure that enhanced the overall visual appeal of this project. We are able to see how Zlatan is perceived by teammates and rivals alike. 

An Excellent Translation

Michael Gallagher translated this book from the original Swedish version. He brought Zlatan to life using British English in a superb fashion.

3. Compelling Images

The vast array of high-quality photographs add significant value on their own. Zlatan shares his ascent in world football with a photographic journey par excellence. You can see that a tremendous amount of time went into selecting these images, at various stages of Zlatan's career, to complement the excellent written content of this book.

4. A Few Notable Quotes
On becoming a world-class player:

"At sixteen, seventeen, you could see that his mind was made up, he was going to be someone. He did extra runs, he'd be out on his own somewhere running up some bloody hill. I didn't have that desire or mentality. That's what separates a world-class player from an ordinary one --- that desire to be the best, to be a winner."

--- Gudmundur Mete, a teammate at Malmö FF.

On the unique relationship with his agent:

"I realised straight away that he was an arrogant bastard. In other words, just like me... 

Back then he was like a half-finished masterpiece, but I could see what was coming... Zlatan has a big advantage compared to many --- his intelligence... As a young man, he knew nothing about business, these days he is a full-blown entrepreneur...

Zlatan needs to be pressured. If there is no pressure, he'll create his own, to push himself on and become even better... He doesn't just tell you how to win, he demonstrates...

The day people stop talking about Zlatan, he'll be dead... If I am the one who made Zlatan, then he's the one who made me --- we made each other."

--- Carmine "Mino" Raiola, his agent, quoted in the section about AFC Ajax Amsterdam.

On his determination to be the best and a will to win:

"Zlatan was never normal... He was the best and he knew it, but he was a great professional, working hard every day to make sure he kept on being the best...

All through the years though, everything has always come down to one thing: he wants to win... 

I think he can be whatever he wants to be in the game because he knows everything that's worth knowing." 

--- José Mourinho, his manager at FC Internazionale Milano and Manchester United, respectively, quoted in the section about FC Inter.

On his intelligence:

"What people forget, what they always fail to mention, is his brain. He's got a real footballing brain. He reads the game so well that he can predict what's going to happen. With all his ability, he can do what needs to be done, but his brain understands what's about to happen long before anyone else's. Add his strength and talent --- you have Zlatan Ibrahimović." 

--- Thierry Henry, a former teammate at FC Barcelona, quoted in the section about the Catalan club.

On his professionalism and challenge ahead in the USA:

The picture I had of him from the media could not have been more different. He also showed himself to be a master of his craft from head to toe. I've never seen such an exemplary professional...

I think Zlatan's going to enjoy playing in America, not just in terms of the football but also the lifestyle. MLS in only going to get better. I think football can be built up into something really great over there and that should be a huge opportunity for Zlatan, another new challenge."

--- Andrea Pirlo, a former teammate at AC Milan, quoted in the section about the Milanese club.

On his ability to apologize and be a role model:

"But even I fell out with him at times, and one time in particular sticks out. It was at PSG, and we couldn't agree on something at training. Afterwards I was checking my phone and he came over and said, 'That was a mistake, the first mistake of my life was to row with you, Thiago.' No worries, I said. That was the end of that. He was a big role model at PSG, and a huge help." 

--- Thiago Silva, a former teammate at AC Milan and PSG, respectively, quoted in the section about Paris Saint-Germain.

On his progression from the early days at Ajax:

"Zlatan struggled at first (at Ajax). I think he was lacking a bit of self-confidence. We saw him in training, where he was fantastic, but in matches it just didn't quite come off... 

Italy turned Zlatan into a great player. Italy is like a tactical school, and Zlatan had to develop his game in order to keep up when he moved there. 

I'm not surprised Zlatan was so good for so long. I saw him train every day for all those years --- I know what he is capable of."

--- Maxwell, his eternal teammate at Ajax, Internazionale, FC Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, respectively, quoted in the section about the Parisian club.

On playing with him in the Swedish national side:

"At Euro 2004, me and Zlatan played together. It was tough. He's not a traditional front man. You had to adapt and try to read how and what he wants to do. You could offer him a through run, or play to feet... 

It was a good thing that he had people to chase in the national team, he's driven by this desire to be number one on every level."

--- Henrik Larsson, a former international teammate, quoted in the section about the Swedish national team.

Please Note

I was provided a review copy by a representative of the publisher, Viking. I was not financially compensated by the author, co-author, publisher or any party who would benefit from a positive portrayal.


Steve Amoia is a freelance writer and translator based in Washington, D.C. He is the publisher of World Football Commentaries since 2006 and published The Soccer Translator from 2008 to 2015. He has also contributed at AC Cugini Scuola Calcio, Beyond The Pitch, Football Media, Italian Soccer Serie A.com, Keeper Skool, and Soccerlens (Sportslens).

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