Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s rise from relative poverty to become one of the world’s most prominent football stars has been described as resembling a ‘Swedish American Dream’ by David Lagercrantz, the ghost-writer of the striker’s inspirational autobiography, who spoke exclusively to GiveMeSport.
Ibrahimovic was born to a Bosniak father and Croatian mother, both of whom had left their war torn nations for Sweden, and spent his formative years living on a dilapidated housing complex in Rosengard.
He honed his unique skills on the tarmac pitches of his estate, while also playing for local junior clubs. It was at the latter where his face did not fit - an immigrant’s son playing alongside, and out-performing, the straight-laced Swedish natives, all blonde hair and blue-eyed. But his talent eventually set him apart.
Ibrahimovic’s temperament, inherited perhaps from a war weary father with a drinking problem, almost ended his career before it had even begun, but he eventually earned a transfer out of Sweden after performing to distinction for Malmo. Ajax would pay a record fee for a Scandinavian player when he was only a teenager.
A move to Juventus followed, as did a dream transfer to Inter Milan, while he became the second most expensive player in history when joining Barcelona in 2009. Numerous honours have come along the way, and they continued with AC Milan, while he has led current club Paris Saint-Germain to consecutive league titles.
Ibrahimovic’s arrival in Paris made him the highest player in the world. Quite a rise for this ghetto boy who used to steal to make ends meet and went hungry for much of his childhood.
“This is a great story. I saw an American Dream story in Swedish. We haven’t had any stories [like this in Sweden] - the guy from the ghetto climb up to the absolute top,” Lagercrantz told GiveMeSport.
“I saw this great adventure, this rise within the Swedish society and in Europe. I was really thrilled to [write the book].
“It was not so easy, of course, the opening up. Zlatan is very intelligent but is always thinking about the future. But I had to open him up and we had to talk about his life. I don’t think he had focused on that so much before and that was a real adventure to get him to talk.
“We had this ambition that this would be a true and frank book. But, after a while, the more we talked we understood that we had a problem, because I was sort of his therapist. He started talking about his childhood, his father drinking, his mother beating him, the refrigerator being empty, Zlatan being hungry all of the time.”
Lagercrantz was speaking as I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic heads for its paperback launch in the USA. It has already been an international bestseller, following its translation into English last year.