How Zlatan Ibrahimović Finally Made The Special One Smile

The World Cup has been pretty damn entertaining so far but let's face it: It would be even better were Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic there. This is an excerpt from his hilarious (and surprisingly well-written) memoir, I Am Zlatan.

I remember one match against Atalanta. The following day I was supposed to receive the award for Best Foreign Player and the Best Player Overall in Serie A, but we were down 2–0 at halftime and I'd been pretty invisible, and Mourinho came up to me in the locker room.

"You're gonna get an award tomorrow, eh?"

"Huh? Yeah."

"Do you know what you're going to do when you get that award?"

"Er, what?"

"You're going to be ashamed. You're going to blush. You're going to know that you haven't won shit. People can't get awards when they play so terribly. You're going to give that award to your mom, or somebody who deserves it more," he said, and I thought, I'll show him, he'll see I deserve that honor, just wait until the second half, never mind if I can taste blood in my mouth, I'll show him. I'm going to dominate again.

There were things like that all the time. He pumped me up and cut me down. He was a master at manipulating the team, and there was just one thing that really bothered me: his facial expression when we played. No matter what I did, or what goals I scored, he looked just as ice-cold. There was never any hint of a smile, no gestures, nothing at all. It was as if nothing had happened, sort of like there was a motionless game in midfield, and I was more awesome than ever then. I was doing totally amazing things, but Mourinho had a face like a wet weekend.

One time we were playing Bologna and, in the twenty-fourth minute, Adriano, the Brazilian, was dribbling along the left side and made it down toward the goal line. He put in a cross, a hard shot that came too low to head and too high to catch on the volley, and I was crowded out in the penalty area. I took a step forward and backheeled it. It looked like a karate kick, just bam! straight into the net. It was absolutely insane. That was later voted Goal of the Year, and the spectators went nuts, people stood up and screamed and applauded— everybody, even Moratti in the VIP section. But Mourinho, what did he do? He stood there in his suit with his hands by his sides, completely stone-faced. What the hell is it with that man? I thought. If he doesn't react to a thing like that, what does get him going?

I talked it over with Rui Faria. Rui is Portuguese as well. He's the fitness coach, and Mourinho's right-hand man. The two of them have followed one another from club to club and know each other inside and out.

"Explain one thing to me," I said to him.

"Okay, sure!"

"I've scored goals this season that I don't even know how they happened. I can't believe Mourinho has seen anything like them. And yet he just stands there like a statue."

"Take it easy, fella," said Rui. "That's how he is. He doesn't react like the rest of us."

Maybe not, I thought. Even so . . . then I'm damn well going to make sure I liven him up, even if I have to achieve a miracle.

One way or another, I was going to make that man cheer.


It was hot that day. The league title had been decided. We'd clinched it long ago. There was tons of nerves in the air. With a bit of luck, this would be my farewell to the Italian League. That's what I was hoping. I had no idea. Regardless of whether this was my swan song or not, I wanted to play a brilliant match and win the Capocannoniere. Damn it, I had no intention of finishing with a scoreless draw.

Of course, it wasn't just down to me. It depended on Di Vaio and Milito too, and they were playing at the same time. Di Vaio with Bologna was facing Catania, while Milito and Genoa were up against Lecce, and I had no doubts that those bastards were going to score goals. I was dead set on replying. I had to get it in there, and that's not easy to do to order. If you try too hard, things seize up. Every striker knows that. You can't think about it too much. It's all about instinct. You've just got to go for it, and I could tell right away it was going to be an eventful match against Atalanta. The score was 1–1 after just a few minutes.

In the twelfth minute, Esteban Cambiasso hit a long ball just outside our own penalty area, and I was standing up there on the line with the defenders. I set off, I was just on side, and the defenders couldn't keep up. I ran like lightning and reached the goalkeeper on my own. But the ball bounced. It bounced and skittled, and I bumped it ahead with my knee and was about to collide with the goalie. Just before then I shot to the right, and it was a goal 2–1, and as of that point I was on top of the goal-scoring table. People were shouting that at me, and I started to hope. Maybe it would work out. But things were happening, and I never really got it. Sure, people were shouting from the sideline: "Milito and Di Vaio have scored!"—something like that. I didn't believe it, though. It sounded like some of the guys on the bench were just coming out with crap. There's a lot of that in soccer—trash talk to get people worked up and to annoy them—and I kept playing. I blocked out everything else, and I guess I thought one goal would be enough. There was real drama going on in the other battles.

Diego Milito was in third place in the standings. He's an Argentinian. He had a fearsome scoring record. Only a few weeks before, he had been cleared to join Inter Milan. So if I didn't get out of the club, we'd be playing together. Now, against Lecce, his flow was incredible. He scored two goals in just ten minutes and was now on twenty-four goals, same as me, and there was a definite sense that a third goal could come at any time. But it wasn't just Milito. Marco Di Vaio had also scored. I knew nothing about that one. Now the three of us were level at the top, and that's no way to win. You can't share it. You have to bring it home alone, and even though I didn't know for sure, it started to dawn on me that I needed another goal. I could tell by the mood. I read it in people's faces on the bench, in the pressure in the stands. The minutes passed. Nothing happened. It looked like it was going to be a draw. The score was 3–3 with just ten minutes remaining. Mourinho sent on Hernán Crespo. He needed new blood.

He wanted to go on the offensive, and he was waving his arms, as if to say, Move up and go for it! Was I about to lose my chance at the goal-scoring trophy? That's what I feared, and I worked hard. I screamed for the ball. A lot of the players were tired. It had been a close match. But Crespo still had strength. He dribbled on the right side and I ran toward the goal. I got a long cross, and there was an immediate struggle for the ball. I pushed one guy away and ended up with my back to the goal while the ball bounced around, and I saw a chance. Like I said, I was facing the wrong way, so what do you do? You backheel it. I backheeled it at a backward angle, and sure, I'd made a lot of backheel goals in my career—the one against Italy in the European Championship, of course, and that karate move against Bologna. But this one, in this situation, this was just too much.

It couldn't go in. This was a performance, like in Mom's old neighborhood, and you don't win the goal-scoring trophy with a move like that in the very last match. That just doesn't happen. But the ball rolled into the goal. The score was 4–3, and I tore off my shirt, even though I knew it would earn me a yellow card. My God, this was big, and I went and stood down by the corner flag with my shirt off, and of course everybody was piling on top of me, Crespo and everybody. They were pressing down on my back. It looked almost aggressive, and they were all shouting at me, one after the other: "Now you've won the Capocannoniere!"

Slowly, it started to sink in—this is historic, this is my revenge. When I came to Italy, people said, "Zlatan doesn't score enough goals." Now, I'd won the goal-scoring trophy. There could be no more doubt. But I still played it cool. I strolled back toward the pitch, and there was something completely different that really made me stop short.

It was Mourinho, the man with the face of stone. The man who never batted an eyelid had woken up. He was like a madman. He was cheering like a schoolboy, jumping up and down, and I smiled: So I got you going, after all. But it took some doing.

I was forced to win the Capocannoniere with a backheel.

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Reprinted with permission of Random House.

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