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"The Barca players were like schoolboys, following the coach blindly, whereas I was used to asking 'why?'. I like guys who run red lights, not pedantic and strict rules," wrote Zlatan Ibrahimovic in his autobiography I am Zlatan.
For a man who has made it his trademark to be at odds with the world, on and off the pitch, Ibra has come to epitomise most of the negative qualities that we attribute towards some of the world's most famous footballers; arrogant, controversial, with big egos and a giant chip on their shoulder. But one shouldn't forget that while many coaches undoubtedly have endured their share of frustration dealing with Zlatan, the same coaches have also seen their careers sky-rocket on the back of his miraculous performances on the pitch.
Until the sequence was broken by Juventus this past campaign, the team that Ibrahimovic had played for finished top of their respective leagues for eight consecutive seasons - one with Ajax, two at Juve, three at Inter, one in his only season with Barcelona and then in 2010-11 with Milan. As he is pretty much able to do whatever he wants with the ball, most football fans are willing to forgive his fiery temperament, which has, however, marred an otherwise amazing career. For every goal he has scored, title he has won, there have also been the stories of his controversial clashes that made it hard for him to settle at just one club.
Born in traditionalist and ultra-conservative Sweden, childhood was never going to be plain-sailing for a child of a Bosnian father and Croatian mother and his rebellious attitude was no doubt shaped in these surroundings. In addition, Zlatan had demonstrated from an early age an incredible self-belief (often displayed in his famous quotes) that turned out to be fully justified judging from the number of prizes in his trophy cabinet.
|"The Barca players were like schoolboys, following the coach blindly. I like guys who run red lights, not pedantic and strict rules"
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Despite his various spats, Ibrahimovic has recently adopted a more humble attitude among the surroundings of the Sweden national team, even if some fans believe that the word 'humble' should never be associated with the Milan striker. After being tempted back out of international retirement, it seems as though coach Erik Hamren's decision to offer Ibrahimovic the captain's armband has succeeded in persuading the diva to show different sides of his personality for the good of the team.
Usually described as a self-indulgent individualist, Ibrahimovic has developed into an inspiring, unifying force around which the other players are able to excel. During the last European Championship in 2008, Ibrahimovic was heavily criticised by the Swedish media as tests revealed that only a few players in Austria and Switzerland had covered less distance than him. Failing to deliver at crucial moments has earlier been a problem for Ibrahimovic in the Swedish shirt. But should he perform at the level he has displayed at the Rossoneri throughout the 2011-12 season, where he finished top scorer in Serie A, there certainly won't be any complaints from the Swedish press this time around.Follow Svend Frandsen on