We love Zlatan Ibrahimovic. You love Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Vitaly Suvorov loves him so much he went to Malmo to see every place mentioned in the Manchester United striker’s celebrated autobiography ‘I Am Zlatan’.
Ibrahimovic is one of the most successful footballers of his generation, winning trophies in six different countries, but he’s just as well known for his personality off the pitch as he is his exploits on it.
To better understand the man, we headed to the place he grew up…
Ibrahimovic was born and raised in Rosengard, one of the Malmo’s toughest neighbourhoods. So I didn’t have to think long where to go first.
Thousands of words are written about that place, and pretty much all of them tell the same story: gloomy streets, criminals and unemployment, as well as immigrants from Iraq, Afghanistan and former Yugoslavia which make up roughly 80% of Rosengard’s population.
And then there’s Zlatan. The man who not only put the struggling neighbourhood on the map but almost made it a tourist attraction.
Maybe I was lucky, or maybe a lot has changed over the last 15 years. But it seemed like the tough guys and criminals were the last thing I could stumble upon while roaming the quiet streets of the neighbourhood often referred to as a ‘ghetto’ or even a ‘warzone’.
Here’s a typical courtyard in the area which features a playground, a bunch of dark-haired guys grilling their steaks, and a lot – A LOT – of bicycles.
It would take a leisure walker about an hour to get from the Malmo central station to Rosengard. The first thing you will see upon entering the neighborhood is the bridge which has been described in detail in Ibrahimovic’s highly successful autobiography ‘I Am Zlatan’.
His father was robbed and stabbed under this bridge. As a kid, Zlatan would try to get away from this place as quickly as possible, frightened by all sorts of thugs and punks hanging out in the shadows.
When he returned to Rosengard about nine years ago, it was a strange moment for him… a special feeling. “It was summer and it was warm and I got out of the car and felt that something was happening to me,” he wrote.
Today the Annelund bridge greets you with a sign, “You can take a guy away from Rosengard, but you can’t take Rosengard out of a guy”. The quote is now classic here, and of course, it’s HIS quote.
“I was the hero returning home. I was the football star but also the scared kid inside that tunnel again, who thought he’d make it if only he ran fast enough. I was everything at once, and a hundred memories came back to me.”
Ibrahimovic spent his formative years being torn between mum and dad. But it was Rosengard that made him the guy the whole world has fallen in love with.
Here’s the courtyard that saw young Zlatan get out of the building every morning to go to the school he hated.
Here’s his apartment block.
I spent about three hours wandering around Rosengard, hoping to see something interesting, and at some points turned to locals.
People – all of them immigrants – were incredibly nice and friendly, even those who didn’t speak English and had no idea what I was talking about.
One lady went even further, took my hand and walked me to the front door of Zlatan’s old flat as soon as I said the word ‘Ibrahimovic’.
Abdulla Ahmed has been living in Rosengard for a little bit longer – and even attended the same school as Zlatan.
“My math teacher remembered Ibrahimovic very well.” he said. “He would often tell us in detail how hard it was to handle Zlatan.
“Our Spanish language teacher also said that Zlatan always had his ball with him and never really cared about studying. You know, he was like, ‘I’ll be a football star, I don’t need this crap.’
“It was cool to hear all these stories. Everyone associates Rosengard with Zlatan now. I’m not really into football, but I live in his old building so people mention him all the time. My parents, for instance, told me that he would often ring our doorbell and run away.
“I think those tricks are part of his personality. And he would never be this great without it. You can’t judge him. Sometimes, people would say that he’s arrogant or something. I don’t think so. He’s an incredible athlete and those kinds of quirks make him even more unique. They make him Zlatan.”
Another man who was nice enough to chat about Ibra was Alla Hussein. Alla, pictured below, came to Malmo from Iraq, married a local woman and found a job at a local eatery a three-minute walk away from Rosengard.
“Zlatan is an immigrant like me.” he said. “He’s a self-made man. As a teenager, he did a lot of shitty things, no doubt about it. But I think every man could say something like this about himself. Everyone has their own story.
“I never met him, but I can say that he’s an example for me as well as for lots of young guys here in the city. He showed what a poor boy from Rosengard could achieve. His name is everywhere in Malmo, everybody talks about him. Even my wife is crazy about him!”
Zlatan Court, a five-a-side football pitch located right next to Ibra’s old house, was opened in 2007.
The Big Unveiling was truly spectacular. Zlatan himself came over to Rosengard with a couple of Nike representatives, cameramen were everywhere, boys were running around, girls were screaming, and the whole courtyard looked like the busiest place in the world.
Ibra, quite possibly for the first time in his impudent, impenetrable public life, seemed touched.
Here’s how Zlatan Court looks now.
A close-up view.
‘I Am Muslim’.
“Here is my heart. Here is my history. Here is my game. Take it further. Zlatan.”
Located in the heart of the city between Malmo’s main square Stortorget and Swedbank stadium, the Borgar school, one of the city’s finest educational institutions, quickly yanked teenage Zlatan out of his comfort zone.
Outside the school wall is a gigantic square-shaped park with a public library, a posh Cosmopol casino and a river that flows into the Oresund strait.
Look around and you will see countless office buildings, fancy restaurants, even an opera house.
In other words, there was nothing surprising about Zlatan, a poor and pugnacious Rosengard kid, feeling like a stranger here.
“I have worked at that school for more that 30 years, and Zlatan is definitely one of the top-five biggest pain-in-the-ass type of kids I have ever seen,” one of his former teachers once said. “He was a number one bad boy who would always get in trouble.”
“I had some snob boys in the team, but at the Borgar school, there were also girls and others types of guys, cool guys who stood in the corners with nice clothes and smoked,” Ibrahimovic wrote in his book.
“Where I came from you had sport shoes and trainings overalls with big Adidas or Nike marks. It was the coolest thing, and I always walked around like that. What I didn’t know was that Rosengard was branded in my forehead. It was like a sign.
“In Borgar School they had Ralph Lauren shirts, Timberland shoes and shirts! Just that! I had barely seen a guy in a shirt before, and I realised that I had to do something about the situation.
“There were a lot of really hot girls in school. You couldn’t talk to them looking like a ghetto kid.”
The pink mansion on Limhamnsvagen street was a longtime dream of Zlatan – a wonderful building, he would say to his friends, the finest one you could possibly find in Malmo.
There was just one problem: the moguls that had bought it way before Zlatan laid eyes on it, found it wonderful too, and never planned on selling it to some cocky footballer.
Eventually, Zlatan and his wife Helena had to meet the owners in person.
“We are here because you live in our house,” said Zlatan.
The guy and his wife chuckled. “Look at it as a joke if you will… But I’m serious. I’m going to buy this house. I will make sure you are satisfied, but we have to have it.”
Needless to say, the deal was signed shortly after the meeting. In 2007, Zlatan paid around 3m euros for the mansion. His new neighbours certainly weren’t too happy about that – never before had a Rosengard punk gone that far – but Zlatan, obviously, didn’t care.
Since Ibra wasn’t allowed to heighten the wall around the house, he lowered the whole thing a few inches so that fans and paparazzi couldn’t see anything.
Then he put up a huge picture of his dirty feet right in the hallway – because, you know, “these feet paid for it all”.
Limhamnsvagen street goes in parallel to the long and picturesque Ribersborg beach, so Ibra ended up with a pretty nice view from the mansion – and a perfect place for a morning jog.
Today, the pink mansion is owned by NHL star Carl Soderberg. 836 square meters, Italian-style kitchen, five bedrooms and three bathrooms.
According to reports, Zlatan sold his dream house to Carl for the same 3m euros.
Back in 2015, Zlatan returned to Sweden as a PSG superstar to face IFK Malmo in the group stages of the Champions League.
Obviously, the city went nuts and by the time the big man arrived at the stadium, Zlatan-related posters or signs were pretty much everywhere.
The craziest part? As soon as Ibra landed in Sweden, owners of Turning Torso, Malmo’s signature futuristic skyscraper and Scandinavia’s tallest building, lit up a gigantic neon letter ‘Z’ right at the top of the construction.
Ibra, in turn, rented Malmo’s main square Stortorget, then put up a huge screen so that fans who failed to secure tickets could watch the game in the city centre.
Nine years ago, IFK Malmo moved from Malmo Stadium, to the Swedbank Stadium, a modern and quite impressive arena with 18,000 seats.
Zlatan played at the Swedbank a couple of times with both PSG and Sweden. Malmo’s old stadium stands just a few metres away from the new one.
Built in 1958, these days it hosts IFK Malmo’s women’s team.
However, it’s hardly a worthy competitor to the Swedbank stadium – you can see piles of garbage pretty much everywhere around the arena and can easily access the pitch without anyone noticing you, as I did.
Ion Bengtsson, a forty-something Swede in a black baseball hat, makes sure the Swedbank stadium looks way more presentable than it’s rusty neighbour. Ion works here as a janitor, loves the club and just like the rest of the city almost idolises Zlatan.
“Zlatan has always showed quality, but as an IFC Malmo player, his ego wasn’t quite as big as it is now,” he said. “I’m not sure if it’s a good or a bad thing.
“But I can still remember that time when I could approach him after a match and say, ‘Hey Zlatan! Nice game.’ And he would always answer, ‘Hey, thanks.’ Now, it’s not possible. You can’t just speak to him like that.
“Ibra is the king of Malmo. Sometimes, I worry that people only know Malmo because of Zlatan because, you know, we have lots of great things here. But I still hope that one day, he comes home. I actually think he will do so. Maybe not as a player, but as a manager. We’ll be waiting.”