I AM ZLATAN is a masterful biopic about how Zlatan Ibrahimović made the grade in professional football. It was a monumental battle that director Jens Sjogren has captured perfectly on film. An uphill struggle all the way.
Switching between his early days at school and looking as if he was going to fail the grade at Dutch footballing giant Ajax at the age of 21 as manager Ronald Koeman tore into him, the story depicts the many hurdles that Ibrahimović must overcome.
Perfectly depicted by Dominic Andersson Bajraktati (a young eleven year old Zlatan) and Granit Rushiti (an older 17 year plus version), he has to deal with divorced parents that sees him flipping between his parents along with his two siblings.
Neither parent has much money (Dad drives a battered Opel that does not like to start) and neither have much time for their children because of work (especially his Croatian Mum) or other distractions (Dad, a Bosnian, grieves as he catches up on the raging war in the Balkans).
Zlatan is moody, sometimes hungry (usually when living with Dad), has a rather large chip on his shoulder and is not a good team player. He’s also a petty thief although the incident when the football coach’s bike goes missing is beautifully acted out.
It makes life difficult for Zlatan. Although hugely talented as a footballer, coaches and teammates (even parents) rail against him. It fuels his rage.
There’s an element of racism (he came to Sweden as a four year old) with him being viewed as an outsider. There’s also doses of arrogance on Zlatan’s behalf. He’s hot headed with one sickening on-field incident that leads to a petition requesting that he be sacked from football club Malmö.
Yet as this biopic shows, Zlatan has some lovely traits. His relationship with his father (Sefik) is at times a tender one, with Sefik displaying glimpses of pure love for his son (unexpectedly turning up to watch him play for Malmo and sticking up for him at school when the headmistress is intent on sending him to a special school). Cedomir Glisovic plays Sefik with great charm and tenderness.
They share an intense love and admiration for Muhammad Ali while Zlatan is also loving towards his younger brother Kefir. The ending is joyous.
The film also emphasises the importance of sports agent Mino Raiola (played by Emmanuele Aita) in Zlatan’s transformation from an arrogant Porsche driving 21 year old at Ajax to a footballer who knuckled down and went on to play for most of Europe’s best teams – including Juventus, AC Milan, Barcelona and Manchester United – and Sweden.
Of course, he never lost his arrogance or his liking for an occasional altercation with the opposition, his own coach (he famously fell out with Pep Guardiola at Barcelona) or the referee. Or his love for flash cars.
Unlike documentaries on other footballing greats – the likes of Maradona, Jack Charlton and Paul Gascoigne – I Am Zlatan is not tinged with sadness.
This is a story of triumph over adversity. Someone who managed to side step the booby traps and to this day is still playing top class football against the greats of the game.
Only at the end do we see clips of the great man score some of the wonder goals that have been a constant in his long career. Some footballer lovers will be disappointed that there is not more of the great man’s wonder goals.
The film, based on the book I Am Zlatan by David Lagercrantz, is on digital platforms from June 17 – DVD ten days later.