It’s nine years since I Am Zlatan Ibrahimović was published in English and described by the Guardian’s Richard Williams as the “most compelling autobiography ever to appear under a footballer’s name”. That book told in revealing detail the rags-to-riches story of Sweden’s most celebrated footballer, born to a Bosnian Muslim father and Catholic Croat mother in a tough neighbourhood of Malmö. It was raw, unapologetic and, though ghostwritten, resounded with the unmistakable voice of this most egocentric of athletes.
Adrenaline: My Untold Stories revisits some aspects of that first book, but really it’s all about the AC Milan striker’s coming to terms with getting older – an unforgivingly accelerated process for those in elite sports. He turns 41 in October, which is an exceptional age still to be playing at the highest level.
“When I was a young man,” he writes – or rather his ghostwriter, Luigi Garlando, does – “I was too in love with myself and I had a raging ego.”
Now he says he’s a leader in a more mature way and more at home with himself. “Zlatan Ibrahimović is a happy man,” he concludes.
Well, perhaps, but the most striking continuity between the young and mature versions of Ibrahimović is that he’s still referring to himself in the third person. He also speaks of being a god.
Because he’s successfully turned egotism into a kind of ironic performance art, it’s often hard to tell how much is a provocative pose and how much he actually believes his own shtick. Certainly his newfound maturity has not led to a Zen-like acceptance of life’s travails that he likes to suggest in this book. Because you only have to turn a few pages to encounter another scene of Ibra getting worked up about some minor irritation or threatening to deck an opponent.
He told Romelu Lukaku that he was going to break every bone in his body if he opened his mouth. And when the then Inter Milan player insulted the Swede’s wife (according to Ibrahimović’s account), he suggested his mother should do a voodoo spell. Elsewhere, he complains that Italian football is hypocritical for taking an anti-racism stance but allowing football crowds to chant “Gypsy” at him.
He is, to put it mildly, a mass of contradictions. Almost every firm opinion he expresses – and he’s avowedly not a man looking for a fence to sit on – is negated by an equally strong opposing opinion, though usually without any recognition of the gap between the two. For example, he says he “can’t stand” footballers carrying on about their humble beginnings, while it’s a theme to which he repeatedly returns himself.
And yet among the endless braggadocio and machismo there is something quite touching, even charming, about his intense relationship with himself. Unlike, say, Cristiano Ronaldo, the vanity comes with an appreciation of the absurd. He says he has had his tattoos all done on his back so he doesn’t have to look at them. And he dismisses the need for PR because, he explains, he has his own personal rule: “It’s enough to be myself, and I’m perfect the way I am.”
Married to a heroically understanding woman who looks after their two children in Sweden while he plies his trade in Milan, Ibrahimović, it goes without saying, is a very long way from perfect. He is in many respects an overgrown child, but nonetheless one who, while he may not be as smart as he thinks, is smarter than his detractors allow.
However, his sense of timing, so exquisite in the 18-yard box, has let him down with this book. Since it was completed, two momentous events in his life have taken place. The first is that his agent Mino Raiola, whom he continually refers to as his best friend, died in April this year.
And the second took place the following month, when Milan won their first Serie A title in more than a decade. In truth, Ibrahimović played a limited role on the pitch, as a result of mounting injuries. But there is an argument – certainly one he’d agree with – that his imposing strength of character and indomitable self-belief helped transform a team of also-rans into ruthless winners. Because, for all his mouthiness, Ibrahimović is a proven winner.
How he will fare when he finally has to hang up his boots is another matter. The thought of what he’ll do without that regular adrenaline infusion scares him “a little”, he writes. I suspect it scares him a lot. For when the crowds stop chanting his name, how will he remain Zlatan Ibrahimović?
• Adrenaline: My Untold Stories by Zlatan Ibrahimović is published by Penguin (£10.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply