That One Time Zlatan Ibrahimović Threw Shade At Dutch Boss Van Gaal

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.

We headed to a training camp in Portugal and, by that time Beenhakker had resigned as director and was replaced by Louis van Gaal. Van Gaal was a pompous ass. He was a little like Co Adriaanse. He wanted to be a dictator, without a hint of a gleam in his eye. As a player, he'd never stood out, but he was revered in the Netherlands because, as a manager, he'd won the Champions League with Ajax and received some medal from the government.

Van Gaal liked to talk about playing systems. He was one of those in the club who referred to the players as numbers. There was a lot of Five goes here and Six goes there, and I was glad when I could avoid him. In Portugal, I couldn't escape. I had to go in for a meeting with van Gaal and Koeman and listen to how they viewed my contribution in the first half of the season. It was like a performance review with grades, the kind of thing they loved at Ajax. I went into an office there and sat down in front of van Gaal and Ronald Koeman. Koeman smiled. Van Gaal looked sullen.

"Zlatan," said Koeman, "you've played brilliantly, but you're only getting an eight. You haven't worked hard enough at the back."

"Okay, fine," I said, wanting to leave.

I liked Koeman, but couldn't cope with van Gaal, and I thought, Great, an eight will do me. Can I have a break now?

"Do you know how to play in defense?" Van Gaal was sticking his oar in, and I could see that Koeman was getting annoyed too.

"I hope so," I replied.

Then van Gaal started to explain, and, believe me, I'd heard it all before. It was the same old stuff about how Nine—that is, me— defends to the right, while Ten goes to the left, and vice versa, and he drew a bunch of arrows and finished with a really harsh "Do you understand? Do you get all this?," and I took it as an attack.

"You can wake up any of the players at three in the morning," I said, "and ask them how to defend and they'll rattle it off in their sleep: Nine goes here and Ten goes there. We know that stuff, and we know you're the one who came up with it. But I've trained with van Basten, and he thinks otherwise."

"Excuse me?"

"Van Basten says Number Nine should save his strength for attacking and scoring goals, and, to tell the truth, now I don't know who I should listen to, van Basten—who's a legend—or van Gaal?" I said, putting special emphasis on the name van Gaal, as if he were some completely insignificant figure.

And what do you reckon? Was he happy?

He was fuming. Who should I listen to, a legend or van Gaal? "I've gotta go now," I said, and got out of there.


Reprinted with permission of Random House.

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