Legends in the game of football are immortalized not just due to their antics on the pitch, but also on the basis of their life, gimmicks, and attitude off the playing field. All three are well endowed within the successful and illustrious career of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who turns 36 this week.
Even though the Swede has carved a brilliant niche for himself in world football, there was once a time when thoughts of abandoning the game ran rampant within his mind. It certainly would have been a great loss, if not for the efforts of a man named Johnny Gyllensjo, who was the coach of Ibrahimovic’s boyhood side Malmo.
In an insightful interview with MEN Sport, the coach revealed astonishing details about the early troubled days of the player’s youth, where the prospect of spending the rest of his life working on the docks seemed more appealing than football to Manchester United’s new No. 10.
“He was not so keen to play football anymore. As an amateur psychologist, I talked to him. I think he really liked to score some goals and he couldn’t do it and this was a problem for him,” Gyllensjo revealed.
What followed was a vital 90-minute conversation by the training ground with the player who was then just 15.
He continued: “We could talk to each other and we had great respect for each other, and he started to move on in Malmo and play in the team. And so we are glad that we have a little bit of an influence in his career.”
This spurted the big man back to playing the game, and he doubled his efforts to excel at the sport. Assistant coach Ola Gallstad added: “He would come home and play street football with his friends. The game would be on Saturday and then he would be playing football on the Sunday in Rosengard. He played football every day.”
Playful encounters involving stealing bikes, fooling about and yet keeping a firm head on the pitch was also narrated by the same source. All this played an integral part in the manner in which Zlatan boosted Malmo back to the top division of Swedish football, before going on to enjoy stints with Ajax and Juventus.
Further, the sights to success were already set high, as Gallstad insisted: “He turned to me and said, ‘Ola, I think I will play here in maybe five years.’ Five years later, he played for Juventus. He had a dream and worked very hard for it.”
Clubs like Barcelona and PSG were also graced by the prowess and goal-scoring intent of the big man, before Man United too, was deemed a worthy destination, with the Premier League being another welcome challenge in a career dotted with brilliance. The sheer manner with which he has recovered from his freak injury and not given up itself is a laudable comment on the daunting might of this legend. Old Trafford will eagerly await his return, and so will he, hungry for more football.
Written by Naveen Kelvin
A writer trying to craft the poetry within football. Purpose in life is to Make Good Art.