Written by Ella Walker


Shelf Life

This week Ella Walker assesses I Am Zlatan by Zlatan Ibrahimović. Is it worthy of a permanent place on her shelf?

pile of booksWas it love at first sight?

I live with three massive football fans. All Crystal Palace matches are acutely observed. Champions League and cup matches are religiously followed. Match of the Day defines the weekend (“I can’t look at my phone – I don’t want to find out the scores!” is a constant refrain). And the World Cup? Nothing else matters, ordinary life comes to a halt.

So no, on top of all the nodding along to Fantasy Football strategising I am bound to do, the thought of reading a footballing autobiography did not fill me with joy. Especially after the last sporting autobiography I had to trudge through (Phil Tufnell’s, for work, not cool). However, I underestimated the lure of Zlatan Ibrahimović…

How long did it take you to feel truly comfortable around each other?

The great thing about this is that it’s written how Ibrahimović (apparently) speaks. No big fancy words, no chunks of indulgent philosophising, just straightforward, open, justifiably arrogant, honest chat. It’s hard to resist.

How would you describe it behind its back?

Yes, it is about a footballer, playing football, winning football tournaments, losing football tournaments, fighting with football managers, football, football, football… yadda yadda yadda. But in some ways, it’s not about football at all. And you don’t need to give a toss about men kicking a ball around to enjoy it.

It’s really about family, and if you have in any way experienced a messy, dysfunctional childhood, absent, difficult or alcoholic parents, deliberately snapped your dad’s cigarettes in half, watched sibling feuds crumble down relationships, or come home to an empty fridge after school, you’ll recognise a lot in this.

In fact, Ibrahimović (and his ghostwriter, David Lagercrantz) capture perfectly the confusion and pain and damned hope of being a kid with big dreams and potential, weighed down by home.

Could you take it on holiday with you, without getting severely hacked off after three days?

Well, in actual fact, this was a deliberate holiday read, Ibrahimović is from Sweden and our destination was, you guessed it, Sweden (via Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Bergen). It fits the standard holiday reading criteria too: paperback, a bit trashy, could have left it on an overnight train and not been devastated. Ta-dah. I didn’t manage to leave it on a train though (it was my boyfriend’s copy and he’s VERY precious about his books), so my only gripe was having to fit it in my rucksack and lug it around Scandinavia for two weeks.

Did it make you laugh out loud?

Well, it did the first time round. The problem with borrowing a holiday read off your boyfriend is that he’ll have read it first, and, of course, shared all the best bits (whether you asked to be prematurely enlightened or not).

“In some ways, it’s not about football at all. And you don’t need to give a toss about men kicking a ball around to enjoy it.”

To be fair, there are many moments in it worth rehashing out loud (it is about a man known for headbutting his teammates and cycling to practice on stolen bikes as a kid), but that, combined with many of Ibrahimović’s exploits already being front-page news, means you can’t escape a nagging sense of déjà vu.

How would you describe your commitment levels – did you put the effort in?

Two thirds of the way in I did consider giving up – it really tails off, the anecdotes getting less and less fiery. But this coincided with the stupider section of our trip: the bit where we stayed in a remote Norwegian cabin with no running water, electricity, entertainment or food, other than pasta. So yes, I finished it. It was that or staring at the fire for hours on end.

You’ve had a nightmare time. Would it provide the understanding to get you through/soak up your tears?

I always find disappearing into someone else’s world for a while suitably distracting. This usually involves going to the cinema though, but then it’s only a matter of time before Ibrahimović’s life gets the big-screen treatment – and it’s always best to read the book before buying the popcorn.

I Am Zlatan coverWould you let it meet your other friends?

Why not? Although, I wouldn’t go raving on about it to strangers on the tube.

If you suddenly stumbled across it after several years of lost contact, do you reckon you would:
a) Think of it fondly but accept you’d both moved on (keep but don’t read)
b) Pick up exactly where you left off (reread every few years)
c) Ditch it, obviously you were never really friends.

A kind c). However charismatic (and weirdly good looking), Ibrahimović is, the final third of the book tails off into nothing. No punchy finale (sorry, spoiler alert): it’s as if you’re allowed to lose interest because he already has. So, while Ibrahimović will remain on the shelf (I only have 50 per cent control over our shelving situation, sadly) our time together is certainly over.

Next month Ella will be reading The Household Spirit by Tod Wodicka.


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Written by Ella Walker

Ella Walker is an entertainment writer and book blogger living in Cambridge. She likes swimming in the sea and eating biscuits. Preferably at the same time.