Zlatan Ibrahimović Q&A: "If you are too nice, you will get eaten alive"

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ESQUIRE: You’ve scored buckets of goals. Ever indulge in YouTube clips of your best net-busters on the sly?
ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIĆ: Yes! Especially after I have scored a nice one. At the time, you can be so full of adrenaline that you don’t know exactly what happened, even if you suspect it was good. I’ve seen a lot of videos online about me, and it’s useful. When I’m not doing well, I like to see myself scoring. It helps me think about what I’m doing wrong.

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ESQ: Do you peek at all the comments people write underneath?
ZI: The negative ones, yeah. Those are the ones that keep you going. It’s too easy to just read all the positive stuff. When I see people criticising me like that, it has the opposite effect on me. It makes me want to score even more. It keeps me hungry.

ESQ: So it’s fair to say you’re a combative chap?
ZI: If you are too nice, you will just get eaten alive. The football world is not always a nice place. When I went to Juventus, I was young, but in training I had legends like Fabio Cannavaro and Lilian Thuram marking me. I had to work hard to get my respect.

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ESQ: What about managers? You’ve not always gotten on with everyone you’ve played under…
ZI: Some coaches prefer players who will just do whatever he tells them to. It’s like, if you’re at school with a load of 10-year-old boys and you tell them to jump, everyone will start to jump. But the intelligent boy will ask, “Why should I jump? Why?” That can be difficult for a lot of coaches, and I understand that.

ESQ: You’ve played for ex-England coach Fabio Capello — how did you find him?  
ZI: Capello is a fantastic coach. He is very disciplinary, but he stands up for his players. A lot of the winning mentality I take onto the field I got from Capello. I like strong characters because they keep you on your toes. I would love to play alongside Wayne Rooney. He does the running of two or three players and makes a lot of space. We would be the perfect combination. Would he be jealous of my hair? No! I don’t think he has that problem anymore.

ESQ: In England, we seem terrified that our players might get “bored” during tournaments. What’s that about?
ZI: If it’s your first big tournament, then everything seems new and exciting, but if you’re experienced then you have to work hard to keep mentally focused. At home, you only see 90 minutes plus extra time, but there is a lot that goes on during these tournaments that the viewers don’t know about! Maybe it’s better they don’t know… [grins mischievously]

ESQ: What one piece of advice would you give to all the would-be Sunday league Zlatans reading?
ZI: Nothing technical… just make sure you’re enjoying yourself. Because if you’re not having fun, you really shouldn’t be playing.

The I Am Zlatan biography is out now