Meet the Craziest superstar on the planet, His Ego, His Woman
You think England’s soccer stars are filthy rich egomaniacs? They’re choirboys next to the wild man who’s just humiliated them with the most spectacular goal ever
Zlatan Ibrahimovic earns more than £11million a year – after tax. His name is registered as a trademark throughout the EU. He drives several Ferraris. And by his own admission, he ‘doesn’t give a damn about what people think’. Only one person has ever been able to calm or control him: his long-term girlfriend Helena Seger (pictured).
He is the most expensive footballer in history (having cost his various clubs a total of £150 million in transfer fees).
He earns more than £11 million a year – after tax. His name is registered as a trademark throughout the EU. He drives several Ferraris. And by his own admission, he ‘doesn’t give a damn about what people think’.
Meet Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the 31-year-old, 6ft 5in,15st Swedish footballer of Bosnian-Croatian descent, who, on Wednesday night, single-handedly destroyed, indeed humiliated England on the football pitch.
Ibrahimovic scored all four of Sweden’s goals in a crushing 4-2 victory. His final goal, a 30-yard bicycle kick, has been described by veteran football commentator John Motson as the best he has ever seen.
Footage of the strike (in which he leapt to blast the ball from 8ft off the ground with his back to goal) has already been watched more than 300,000 times on YouTube.
But just as Ibrahimovic is no ordinary physical specimen and no ordinary footballer, he’s no ordinary character, either.
Football has always had its fair share of rough diamonds, but Ibrahimovic is a rare gem indeed.
He makes Mario Balotelli, the womanising, car-crashing, bad-boy of Manchester City look like an innocent choirboy by comparison.
‘Whenever life’s at a standstill, I need some action,’ he says.
Action could be anything from inviting his mates round to let off home-made firecrackers to driving one of his Ferraris, or his Porsche Carrera, or his Volvo C30 TS, or his Audi S8 as fast as they will go.
And that’s very fast. Ibrahimovic has boasted: ‘I always drive like a madman. I got to 325kmph (202mph), leaving the police behind.
‘I’ve done so many silly things I daren’t think about now.’
He regards every passenger he manages to terrify as a badge of honour.
As for football, ‘it’s a fight,’ he says.
And he certainly knows how to fight. He’s a taekwondo blackbelt.
He says: ‘I need to be angry to play well. I need to shout and make some noise.’
All through his much-travelled career, playing for clubs all over Europe, he has often fought with opponents, team-mates, referees and managers.
Especially his managers. Ibrahimovic (who often talks of himself in the third person) told Pep Guardiola, his manager at Barcelona, that he was ‘a coward’ who had ‘no balls’.
He had such a serious fight with an AC Milan team-mate during training that, by Ibrahimovic’s own admission, they had to be separated before one of them got killed.
In successive Italian league matches this February, while playing for AC Milan, Ibrahimovic slapped several opponents in the face.
At the European Championships this summer he reacted with fury when his Swedish team-mates, having played feebly against Ukraine, jogged over to the sidelines after the game to chat with their wives and girlfriends.
This is a man who lives his entire life consumed with rage. And when one reads his autobiography, modestly titled I Am Zlatan, it’s easy to see why.
Because Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a catastrophic childhood. He was born in Malmo, on Sweden’s southern coast and grew up in Rosengard, a tough, working-class suburb with a high proportion of immigrants.
His parents arrived in Sweden in the 1970s hoping for a better life. They divorced when he was two. His father Sefik was a caretaker. His mother Jurka worked 14-hour days as a cleaner to support Zlatan, his older sister Sanela and a number of half-brothers and sisters, one of whom became a serious drug-addict.
Jurka was tough and used to discipline Zlatan by hitting him with a wooden spoon. One time she hit him so hard she broke the spoon – then made Zlatan buy a new one. Or more likely steal one.
For Zlatan Ibrahimovic was a juvenile delinquent. He threw bricks at car windows. He went shoplifting in local department stores. He stole bicycles.
On one occasion he stole a postman’s bike, with the mail still in the bag.
When he joined his first proper football club, in his early teens, he stole the coach’s bike, and any of the team’s gear he could pilfer.
His chaotic family inevitably attracted the attention of social services. The children were split up and Zlatan was sent to live with his father, an alcoholic.
All his dad’s money went on booze and there was never any food in the house. In his autobiography, Ibrahimovic vividly remembers the pain of being hungry. To this day, he insists that his fridge must be full at all times.
But Zlatan had potential. He was clever and so good at maths that his teachers assumed he must be cheating. But he lacked the patience and the self-discipline to put much effort into his lessons.
For a while, he kept going to school, just to eat a large, free lunch. Then, in his mid-teens, he gave up education altogether. The only thing he could do was play football.
But his psychotic temper almost derailed his career before it had begun.
‘I had incredible outbursts,’ he recalls. At the age of 13, he put a team-mate in hospital with a headbutt. The boy’s father organised a petition of parents, demanding that Ibrahimovic should be banned from the club.
The junior team coach ignored the parents’ pleas for the same reason that coaches across Europe have tolerated Ibrahimovic’s violence: he’s just too good a player to let go.
He made his professional debut at 17, and by 19 was already a star in Sweden.
Only one person has ever been able to calm or control him: his long-term girlfriend Helena Seger, a beautiful, glacial blonde 11 years his senior who is the mother of his two sons, Maximilian, six, and Vincent, four.
A former children’s TV presenter and economics graduate from a smart middle-class background, the 42-year-old was a successful marketing executive with her own country house and Mercedes sports car when they met more than ten years ago outside a bureau de change at Malmo Central Station.
It was hardly love at first sight. She (correctly) thought he was a crude, flashy yob.
But Ibrahimovic, barely 20 but already a star player for Ajax Amsterdam, was captivated by the way she didn’t gush over him like the girls his age.
She has tried to teach him manners and social graces.
He, in return, has bought Helena a multi-million-pound home in Malmo, and a lifestyle of incredible luxury.
He was once asked what he had bought his partner for her birthday. Nonplussed, he replied: ‘Nothing, she already has Zlatan.’
This summer Ibrahimovic moved to Paris St Germain for a transfer fee of around £20 million, a move that took the total amount spent on him by his clubs to £150 million.
His post-tax salary of £11.3 million was deemed ‘disgusting’ by the French finance minister, Jerome Cahuzac.
‘At a time when everyone around the world is tightening their belts,’ he said, ‘these figures are not impressive, they are indecent.’
Ibrahimovic simply replied: ‘I don’t understand all the criticism. After all, the more money I earn, the more tax France receives.’
This week, his club are top of the French league and on course to win the title.
Such success is nothing new to Ibrahimovic. Between 2001 and 2011, every team he played for won their national championship.
No other player in football history has ever matched that record. But then, few can match Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s dark past, either.
For, as he says: ‘You can take the boy out of the ghetto. But you can’t take the ghetto out of the boy.’