Zlatan Ibrahimovic: You Created The Hype

Date published: Monday 24th August 2015 1:17

Zlatan Ibrahimovic: You Created The Hype

Football autobiographies are a curious business. They generally fall into three categories; you’ve got the score-settlers, the banter/anecdote merchants, and the ‘where’s the cheque?’ crew. Most books penned by our brave boys fall into at least one, perhaps even all three of these categories.
Of course none of that necessarily guarantees any of these books will actually be interesting. At the Hay Festival this week, Swedish writer David Lagercrantz said: “I started to read ghostwritten football books and I must say I’ve never read such boring books in my whole life.” Indeed he’s right. They’re often vacuous vanity exercises and criminal wastes of tree, the purchasers of which are those with a genuine interest in the minutiae of football, curiously loyal sorts who think buying Theo Walcott’s book makes them bigger Arsenal fans, or panicked aunts in a provincial branch of The Works on December 24th.
But back to Lagercrantz. Keen football bookworms may recognise his name as the man who helped Zlatan Ibrahimovic scribble out the much-discussed tome ‘I Am Zlatan’ a couple of years back, a book which cemented the walking ego’s status as the footballer for the internet generation – endlessly Vineable, perennially anecdotable and constantly quotable. Now those quotes came with the stamp of approval and authenticity.
Or did they? As you may know, Lagercrantz went on to say: “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.”
So, as it turns out, it was largely bullshit. All those outrageous things he said, those barbs he threw, those zings he zung, they could well have just been from the imagination of a giddy ghostwriter, someone who wasn’t so much interested in presenting an accurate picture of a man’s life as writing an image of what he thought that man was.
Perhaps Ibrahimovic can use this as an excuse for why, despite the widescale interpretation of the more outrageous things in the book as just ‘Zlatan being Zlatan’, he comes across as a particularly unpleasant character at various points of the book. At one stage he recounts the time his infant son was taken very ill and in the hospital, forced to have an operation on his stomach. ”I love you two,’ I said. ‘You’re everything to me. But I can’t handle this, I’m gonna freak out. Phone me, the tiniest little thing that happens,’ and then I got out of there. That wasn’t a nice thing to do to Helena (his wife).’ He hightailed it home and ‘probably, I played on my Xbox’. It doesn’t exactly paint a picture of the nicest of men, but maybe that’s another example of Lagercrantz’s ‘creativity’.
Still, the first thing to note is that this sort of thing happens all the time. The whole point in having a ghostwriter is that he or she does, y’know, the writing, so it’s inevitable that someone left in a room with a computer and many hours of quite possibly turgid interviews is going to throw in some purple prose. Indeed, perhaps the most famous passage in a football autobiography in recent times, Roy Keane’s vivid description of his assault on Alfie Haaland, turned out to be a rather loose interpretation of Keane’s thoughts, as told by Eamon Dunphy.
“I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the description of the challenge on Haaland because it was clear what had happened,” the author and TV controversialist said last year, after Keane had picked a bone with Dunphy’s words in the second volume of his memoirs. “I’d already come out and said in public that I’d taken artistic licence, and the words were mine, not Keane’s.” One man’s artistic license is another’s distortion. Influences, plagiarism. Tough love, bullying. It’s all in the interpretation.
But the point is it hardly matters with someone like Ibrahimovic. He’s become a cartoon, a zany caricature that everyone crowds around giggling, saying ‘What’s he going to do next?!?!??!??!’, and all this sort of thing does is feed that. He says outrageous things, acts in that manner of someone who has long since thoroughly bought into their own hype and has the ego to follow through with it, which is at least part of the reason why people are so fascinated with him.
“You can imagine the moment when I, the fake Zlatan Ibrahimovic, had to send the manuscript to the real Zlatan Ibrahimovic,” said Lagercrantz. “The first thing he said was: “What the f**k 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.” And there we have Zlatan.
But who, least of all himself, wants anything else? Lagercrantz, by inventing some outlandish things that he thinks were probably the sort of thing Zlatan would say, was just giving the people what they want. And in turn, it feeds Zlatan’s concept of himself, a walking ego powered on the attention of others, like the Ultimate Warrior taking power from the ropes of a wrestling ring. Whether any of it is true or not is hardly the point. That Zlatan signed off on all this suggests it was hardly the greatest departure from the truth anyway.
As with most things, the cult of Zlatan has gone too far. There have been countless backlashes to backlashes, as people rail against the veneration of Zlatan as this all-powerful myth. He also happens to be a astoundingly brilliant footballer who can make crowds gasp, which is why people indulge him so much, but it is of course easy to become thoroughly bored with the whole thing.
Still, when the legend becomes fact, print the legend. Lagercrantz printed the legend, and we wouldn’t want it any other way.
Nick Miller

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