'The Zlatan' achieves new heights in awards
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is all smiles November 21 after winning his 11th Golden Ball as Sweden's top soccer player. Andreas L. Eriksson/Bildbyrån
It seems only the Zlatan can humble the Zlatan.
In a moment of real emotion, Swedish football star Zlatan Ibrahimovic admitted to feeling “humbled” after the Swedish Football Association (SvFF) announced November 26 it planned to erect a statue of the striker outside of the National Arena in Solna. The announcement came days after Ibrahimovic won his 11th Golden Ball as Sweden’s top football player.
"It’s incredible. Normally you get a statue when you pass away, but I am alive," he said. "I'm super happy. I'm honored. Sweden is my country and whatever I do, I represent Sweden; I will always go back there. I cannot describe the words; the whole career I went through, it has been a big adventure with many things happening and this is the outcome — I get a statue. I cannot ask for more."
The statue artist Peter Linde is to create is a 2.7-metre-tall (nearly 9 feet) version of the trophy presented to Zlatan at the same time as his latest Golden Ball. The arms-aloft design is especially pleasing to Ibrahimovic.
"It’s like a gesture or a movement from a game — a typical Zlatan movement,” he said.
Although somewhat humbled, Ibrahimovic was still Ibrahimovic as he spoke with Manchester United TV about his latest honor.
"I’ve gone through it,” he said. “I’ve been a little bit critical because I wanted the statue to be like me: massive, powerful, magic, wow! All these combinations I wanted to get into it, but he’s done a great job — he’s a great artist. He has his way of seeing things and he made it like a symbol that would live forever."
Despite his superstar status and unwavering self-confidence, Zlatan admits that while growing up in humble surroundings in Malmo, he would scarcely have imagined he would be immortalized in his capital city.
"I come from a small area in Malmo — the ghetto, they call it — and I get a statue in the capital city of Sweden," said Ibrahimovic, whose mother and father immigrated to Sweden from Croatia and Bosnia respectively.
"I wouldn’t have believed it because I felt different. I didn’t feel like the other ones — where I came from, because of my background. But I believed that I would take over the world, that’s for sure."
Jose Mourinho, who coached Ibrahimovic while the pair was at Inter Milan in the 2008-09 season, heaped praise on his forward after the plans were announced.
"In his country they have a few big personalities in terms of sport, but at football level he wins the Player of the Year award year after year and he has done so much for the country," Mourinho told MUTV.
"It is not usual to get a statue when you are still playing, but it is much more beautiful this way."
Ibrahimovic has set just about every record in Swedish football. He is the all-time leading scorer with the national team with 62 goals in 116 appearances. After breaking onto the soccer scene in 1999 with hometown club Malmo FF, where he scored 17 goals in 40 matches, he moved first to Ajax Amsterdam and then to Italian giant Juventus. He played 70 games in the black-and-white of the Turin side, scoring 23 times, before moving to Inter Milan in 2006 where he achieved near mythic status. He led the blue-and-black to back-to-back Serie A titles, racking up 57 goals in 88 matches. He then made a much-hyped move to Barcelona, where, despite scoring 16 goals in 29 appearances, he never fit it. He moved to AC Milan in 2010, following in the footsteps of Swedish greats Nils Liedholm, Gunnar Gren and Gunnar Nordahl. In two seasons in red and black, he played 61 matches and scored 42 times. He then signed with Paris St. Germain, where his legend grew. He led the Paris club to three titles, averaging nearly a goal a game. In four seasons, he scored an astounding 113 goals in 122 appearances. He signed as a free agent with Manchester United last summer, where he re-united with Mourinho.
The 2016 Golden Ball marks the 10th consecutive year in which Ibrahimovic has won Sweden’s top soccer award. Since the SvFF began the award in 1946, no other player had won it more than twice.
Zlatan gave a typically confident speech when receiving his trophy at a glittering ceremony in Stockholm
"It feels unreal,” he said. "Many are thinking 'Why him?’ and so on, but after all the hard work over 15 years in the national team and 20 years in my club career, it feels like it's being appreciated. You usually get this after you die, but I still feel alive. When I die, this statue will live on forever.”
Ibra also uploaded a photo to his personal Instagram account with the caption: "After 20 years of hard work I got a statue in the capital city of Sweden. Who else. Super proud, happy, emotional, wow and thank you Sweden."
Former Paris Saint-Germain teammate David Beckham paid a unique tribute to his friend the SvFF played at the gala.
"His physique, his passion and his love for the game hasn't changed,” Beckham said in the message. "He is still one of the greatest players that has ever played the game — one of the reasons why I'm happy he is now playing at Manchester United, my team. Thanks for that, Zlatan.”
Beckham also gave some insight into his former teammate’s psyche. "For me, Zlatan is a player who has class, always wants to win and he proved that when I moved to PSG. He was one of those players that it doesn't matter whether we were playing an important match in the French league or on the training field — he wanted to win,“ he said. “If he wasn't winning then he was like one of my children. He would get upset, he would get angry and he would lose it. Not that my kids lose it, but Zlatan does! For me he is a winner.”
A model of the statue of Zlatan Ibrahimovic the SvFF plans to erect outside the National Arena in Solna. Andreas L. Eriksson/Bildbyrån
Hedvig Lindahl poses with the Diamond Ball at the Football Gala November 21 in Stockholm. Andreas L. Eriksson/Bildbyrån
The Zlatan was not the only player honored at the annual Football Gala November 21 in Stockholm. Chelsea Ladies FC goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl won her second-consecutive Diamond Ball as the top female Swedish football player. Lindahl also brought home female goalkeeper of the year honors as she led Cheslea to the English title, to the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League and helped Sweden reach the finals of the 2016 Rio Olympic soccer tournament, where Sweden fell (once more) to Germany.
FC Copenhagen and Sweden No. 1 Robin Olsen won the men’s award as he cemented his place as the top national goalkeeper with a series of stirring performances during the 2016 UEFA European Championships for an otherwise lackluster Swedish side.
Victor Nilsson Lindelof, defender for FC Benfica in Portugal and now a mainstay on the national teams, won the men’s fullback of the year award. Linda Sembrant, who plays her club football for Montpellier Hérault SC in France, won the women’s prize.
Brazilian superstar Marta won the ladies’ midfielder of the year award, her first as she dropped out of her striker role for Damallsvenskan runners-up FC Rosengard. Marta won four forward of the year awards at previous galas. Emil Forsberg, who helped Leipzig earn promotion to the top tier of the Bundesliga in Germany, won the men’s award.
The hardware was nearly non-stop for Zlatan, who in addition to the Golden Ball and the statue, also won the forward of the year award. Pernille Harder, who led Linkoping to the 2016 Damallsvenskan title, won the women’s award.