This is a bit off topic, but I think it may implicitly highlight the more down to earth nature of the Football League!
Before I start what could develop into a lengthy rant, let me establish the facts; Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a cracking player. His fourth goal against England last year would have been enough to secure his legacy, but that would be to discredit his achievements at some of Europe’s biggest clubs; Ajax, Juventus, Inter, Barcelona and Milan. He’s won numerous titles and accolades along the way, and at the age of 31 he scored 35 goals in 46 games last year for Paris Saint-Germain, along with 11 assists. He should be celebrated for his undoubted ability, but he should also be castigated for his often callous attitude to the game.
I know that I’ll be in a minority here. Many football fans take to Ibrahimovic’s ‘colourful’ outbursts as a hilarious form of laddish banter, and find him an entertaining source for quotes. The headline “Zlatan Ibrahimovic announces he is donating his entire salary to Zlatan Ibrahimovic” may raise chortles, but are we really going to pat him on the back for saying “the children of Paris are not leading Ligue 1 in goals this season. I am”? I find it hard for Ibrahimovic to be endeared to me in this time of economic hardship when he adds “if anything, the children of Paris should be giving me even more money for having the privilege of being in the same city as my incredible quality”. 80% of football fans will probably laugh at this ‘Zlaritible donation’, but I doubt they would if they lost their job, or indeed if a primma donna was to blatantly dive and win a penalty at their team’s expense; the hypocrisy is ludicrous.
Not only has Ibrahimovic been boastful about his financial gain and conspicuous consumption (he is said to earn some 14 million euros a year), but he has had utter contempt for one of the game’s great managers; Pep Guardiola. In a published autobiography called ‘I am Zlatan’, Ibrahimovic labels Guardiola (the winner of 3 La Liga titles, 2 Copa del Reys, 2 Champions League titles, 3 Supercopa de Espanas, 2 UEFA Super Cups and 2 FIFA Club World Cups in his managerial career alone) a “spineless coward”, before going on to add this curious anecdote: “None of the lads acted like superstars, which was strange. Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, the whole gang – they were like schoolboys”. Surely not! Footballers acting modestly? “The best footballers in the world stood there with their heads bowed and I didn’t understand any of it. It was ridiculous. Everyone did as they were told”. Fans across the country rightly lament the often arrogant nature of the modern footballer, yet will they agree with Ibrahimovic’s thesis? Ibrahimovic can’t really contest the way that Barcelona has been run over the years, which has brought the Catalans magnificent success; the episode highlights the heavily individualised nature of the towering Swede.
People will rightly say that there are plenty of other footballers guilty of heavily inflated egos. Pierre van Hooijdonk may not immediately spring to memory for some, but he supposedly said that Celtic’s £7,000 a week offer “might be good enough for the homeless…but not for an international striker”. I’ve picked Ibrahimovic out in this piece because he is such an outrageous example. He also hasn’t always been value for money; when Inter received around £40 million plus Samuel Eto’o for Ibrahimovic from Barcelona in 2009, who do you think got the better deal? Barcelona sold him for around £20 million a year later to AC Milan. Ibrahimovic obviously had little control over what was paid for him, but if we are to take his earlier quotes with PSG as gospel then he was worth every penny.
It’s a crying shame that we can’t just discuss a player’s ability on the pitch, and I’m aware that I’m prone to calls of hypocrisy, but quotes of Ibrahimovic’s capacity inevitably draw this kind of derision. I wouldn’t mind at all acting like a schoolboy if I was earning over £200,000 a week, especially if it was to do a hobby. Every footballer is a role model, and should act so accordingly. As a world class player, Ibrahimovic is in the spotlight, and whilst his remarks may be entertaining, they act as a symbolic smack in the face in an ever escalating financial bubble for football fans. Would it really cost much for Ibrahimovic to be just a little more modest? Zlatan is a remarkable player, but there are players better than him that are capable of toning down the arrogance. He’d do well to remember the words of former Ipswich chairman John Cobbold (Sir Bobby Robson’s former boss): “you have to love the game more than the prize. The game is more important than the prize because without the game, there is no prize anyway”.