Uniting France through football and laughter – Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Love him or hate him, there is no denying that Zlatan Ibrahimovic gets a lot of people talking.

Whether it is for his off the pitch antics or his creativity in front of goal, it’s hard to find a footballer capable of still dividing so many opinions.

“Overrated”, “never turns up when needed” or “cocky” are a few of the words used to describe a man who couldn’t care less what people thought of him. That’s the beauty of Zlatan.

Buying Zlatan Ibrahimovic has probably been Paris Saint-Germain’s wisest move. Not only did the player lead the club to their first league title in 19 years, scoring 30 odd goals in the process, but he has also managed to do something that no previous Parisian player has ever achieved: soften the hatred Marseille fans have towards their main rivals.

For an article on their website, French radio station RMC Sport ventured into one of the best youth clubs in the South of France, Sporting Club d’Air Bel, and were surprised by what they saw. A few years ago, the only football shirts worn by the young talents would have been the white and light blue of Marseille. Now, however, more and more young football players are seen sporting Paris Saint-Germain shirts.

I’ll let you guess who the most common name on the back of these shirts is? That’s right: Ibrahimovic.

Even Bruno, Air Bel’s director, admits defeat over the Zlatan effect: “It’s true that Paris Saint-Germain have a great team and that, today, all the kids are in love with Zlatan”

Children are impressionable and that’s what Zlatan does. He impresses. His constant stream of creative goals has caught the eye of many young kids, who are now trying to emulate him, just like a young Zlatan Ibrahimovic tried to emulate a certain (now fat) Brazilian striker by watching clips of him on the Internet in his house in Sweden.

That’s what great players do. They unite people over the love of football. Take, for instance, the 2005/2006 El Clasico when Barcelona thrashed Real Madrid 3-0 at the Bernabeu. Ronaldinho had probably one of the best games of his career. Instead of booing him for playing for the other team and single-handedly dismantling theirs, the Bernabeu applauded the Brazilian’s genius after he scored his 2nd goal of the game.

Of course, many people will point towards Ronaldinho’s modesty off the pitch whenever it comes to talking about his footballing abilities and say that is one of the reasons why he will always be loved more than Zlatan ever will. The thing is with Zlatan is that you cannot take him seriously.

For example, in one of his latest interviews with beIN Sport, he was asked by his teammate, Zoumana Camara, if he was worried when Zacharie Boucher (Toulouse’s goalkeeper) parried away his panenka penalty (Zlatan went on to score the rebound to complete his hat-trick). Ibrahimovic’s answer? “No, of course not. Had he saved it, I would have kicked both him and the ball into the goal”.

One of the main reasons why Zlatan is so loved by children is because he makes them laugh off the pitch as well as awes them on it. Take him less seriously and you learn to appreciate him for what he is: a big, incredibly talented at football, joker.