Ligue 1 top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic has a fascinating tale to tell and he poured his heart out, talking about his childhood in Sweden, why Maxwell's a "teddy bear" and why Muhammad Ali is his role model.
The Swedish superstar, scorer of 18 Ligue 1 goals this season, was speaking to beIN SPORT, the LFP's international broadcasting partner. Born in Sweden to a Bosnian father and a Croatian mother, Ibrahimovic has risen from humble beginnings to become an iconic figure of the global game.
"I'm from, let's say a 'ghetto', in Malmo, a place called Rosengard, and it was not famous for being a good area, the opposite in fact as it was famous for being a very bad area. Even today they talk about it being a bad area, but I had a good time. I grew up in that area, and there were a lot of foreigners; a mix from Africa, from Asia, from Europe, from everywhere. We had everything, we had Yugoslavs, Poles, people from every country in one place. I mean, if you respect the people, people respect you, this is the way it is there. It's not like you step on another person's toes to be cool. I mean it's a tough environment and I think it comes naturally that you become tough, because of the environment. I've always believed in myself, because when you come from an area like that you have to have a lot confidence. I lived with my father all my life and at home it wasn't like we had food on the table every day because my father was working. It was a tough environment and I'm very proud to be from this area because today I play for PSG. I have played for many big clubs, and today I can say I represent that area, and I do it in a positive way. It means if I can succeed, if I can do it, then everybody else can do it."
LIFE AT MALMO
"I was playing always as I would like to play. I like to have the ball, dribble, do different things, not the standard Swedish thing of 4-4-2, play for the team, run for the team. I learned that in a way, but I wanted to keep my thing from Rosengard, what I learned, the dribbles, to go off on your own, dribble past not one player, but maybe dribble past five players. The way you train is the way you play. So I continued doing that. They were complaining I should pass more the ball, play with the team, and I was like 'OK good', I was listening but not listening. I knew clubs were watching me, many clubs were watching me because the director, he was like 'many clubs are here watching the game', and every week was like that. I didn't care because I was in Malmo, in the city, in the first team, I was playing, I was feeling proud because all my friends were coming to watch, suddenly my father was coming to the stadiums, and he became a fanatical supporter of my career. I was on top of the world because I was happy and I was enjoying my football."
SIGNING FOR AJAX
"I went to a hotel to sign the contracts. To cut a long story short, I went to the hotel, signed, everything was done, but I didn't tell anyone because in my mind still I didn't know how big the thing was, how important it was, and I was in my car, I was like feeling cool. I had a nice car at that time. When you are young, and I can see that today at PSG, the young guys they like nice cars. I'd gone through that already, but I had a nice car for that age and I was driving and my mother called me, and I said ,speaking Yugoslavian, 'hello how are you?', and she was like crying into the telephone, and I was like what's going on. She said: 'Yeah, yeah, I saw you on the news, there is a picture of you', and she doesn't speak Swedish perfectly, so she said 'are you alive are you alive?' She was afraid, she thought something bad happened to me, that I was in a hospital. She didn't understand. I said: 'No, Ajax bought me now for 9 million,' and I made it simple, and she said to me 'don't fool around'."
MAXWELL, A FRIEND FOR LIFE
"From there everything begins. Ajax, the adventure in Ajax, I saw Beenhakker, I saw this amazing Amsterdam ArenA. I came to Amsterdam totally alone, and I had problems in the first month. I will be honest, I didn't have money for this month, because the salary comes after one month, and I had a television and a bed in a big house. No, not a big house, today I'd see it as a small house, but at the time it was a big house. And I called Maxwell, because Maxwell came to Ajax at the same time as me, so he picked me up at the airport and I got to know him a little bit more. After two weeks I called Maxwell and I said I have problems, he was like 'OK', because Maxwell is the best guy in the world. I mean if you want to think of a teddy bear you have Maxwell. I called him I said 'listen I don't have food at home, I need help', and he said 'OK come to my place'. He put me on the floor, with a mattress to sleep on. I slept in his house for two weeks, I was hanging out with him, eating food and driving to training together. And after one month the salary came and it became easier for me."
ZLATAN'S ROLE MODEL
"My father always showed me Muhammad Ali stuff, and Muhammad Ali became like an example to me. He looked like a crazy man, talking a lot, but he was doing it in the ring also. So it was like, you can be cocky, you can have a big mouth, but you have to perform on the field. You have people, a lot of people in different areas, that talk a lot, but they don't perform. They say things like 'I'm the best', but then don't show it. But Muhammad Ali was. He'd say I will knock you out in the fourth round and he went in the ring and he knocked you out in the fourth round."