Swedes’ love for Ibrahi­movic un­shaken by out­burst

The China Post - - SPORTS - BY SVREN BILLING

A foul- mouthed out­burst by Paris Saint-Ger­main star Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic has drawn vir­tu­ally no crit­i­cism in his na­tive Swe­den, where churl­ish com­ments have only un­der­scored his im­age as a straighttalk­ing un­der­dog.

The 33-year-old will face the French league’s dis­ci­plinary com­mis­sion on April 9 for com­ments made af­ter PSG’s de­feat at Bordeaux on March 15, when he la­beled France a “shit coun­try” that “does not de­serve PSG.”

French Prime Min­is­ter Manuel Valls said he was “shocked,” while far-right Na­tional Front leader Marine Le Pen sug­gested the Swede could leave France if he was un­happy.

But in Swe­den few peo­ple were up­set or even sur­prised by the spat.

Mats Lilien­berg, who played with Ibrahi­movic at Malmo, painted a pic­ture of a hard­work­ing, fo­cused ath­lete whose hy­per­bole was only part of his charm.

Be­neath the swag­ger he “is an- other per­son if you know him,” the 45-year-old for­mer team­mate told AFP.

“He was com­ing up, he was young and cocky. He was ex­actly the same then as he is to­day. But ... he’s very kind, hum­ble. He’s there for peo­ple who are close to him,” he said.

Role mode

In Ibrahi­movic’s home­town of Malmo there were no signs that the French con­tro­versy had dented the im­age of the city’s own su­per­star.

“He’s got class, he’s got good char­ac­ter. His at­ti­tude is not al­ways good but you still like it,” 16-year-old Elias Ab­dul­lah said on the side­lines of a school foot­ball tour­na­ment.

“It’s not ev­ery day that a small guy from Rosen­gaard be­comes the world’s best foot­ball player,” he added, re­fer­ring to the im­mi­grantheavy neigh­bor­hood where Ibrahi­movic, like him­self, once lived.

Ibrahi­movic, born in Swe­den to a Bos­nian fa­ther and a Croa­t­ian mother, ad­mit­ted in a 2011 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy that the first time he ven­tured into the city cen­ter was in his late teens, feel­ing like an out­sider who knew very lit­tle about the coun­try’s top foot­ballers un­til he be­came one him­self.

“I mean, I was from Rosen­gaard. I didn’t give a damn about the Swedes. I’d been fol­low­ing the Brazil­ians,” he said.

Rags to Riches Story

Since then he’s made a re­mark­able jour­ney into main­stream Swedish cul­ture, win­ning nu­mer­ous awards.

A “fan­tas­tic class jour­ney,” as de­tailed in his best-sell­ing au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, helped boost his pop­u­lar­ity in the coun­try, says Cris­tine Sar­rimo, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of lit­er­a­ture at Lund Uni­ver­sity.

The story was a “myth about an anti-hero who ... suc­ceeds against the odds, com­pletely on his own mer­its,” she said.

Anja Gatu, a sports colum­nist at re­gional daily Sydsven­skan, said that even though he still had his de­trac­tors — some of whom could be found among the anti-im­mi­grant Swe­den Democrats — Ibrahi­movic’s foot­ball skills had won over the Swedish public af­ter an ini­tially rocky start.

The fact that he “never made a se­cret of want­ing to be the best” cou­pled with his brash com­ments — some­times made in jest but mis­un­der­stood — sat un­easily with some Swedes, she said.

Gatu her­self took of­fence in 2013 when he waded into a row over the Swedish FA’s de­ci­sion to re­ward Swedish mid­fielder An­ders Svens­son with a car, but not his fe­male coun­ter­part Therese Sjoe­gran.

“They can have a bi­cy­cle with my au­to­graph and that will be enough,” Ibrahi­movic told tabloid Ex­pressen, adding that the crit­i­cism of the award was cast­ing a pall over Svens­son’s achieve­ments.

In a coun­try where even prime min­is­ters have la­beled them­selves fem­i­nists, there was no short­age of out­rage.

“We’re not as pa­tri­otic in Swe­den as they are in France,” said Daniel Kristof­fer­son, a sports jour­nal­ist at Ex­pressen.

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