Zlatan Ibrahimovic has spoken out about the ‘latent racism’ aimed at him from the Swedish media throughout his career.
The 36-year-old, whose father was a Muslim Bosniak and his mother a Croat, suffered intense discrimination during his youth career with Malmo.
He has since gone on to establish himself as the greatest Swedish player of all time, claiming 32 trophies and scoring 421 goals.
Speaking to Canal+, Zlatan remarked how his home country, in spite of how he put Sweden on the map, never fully warmed to him.
“They still attack me today because they do not accept me being Ibrahimovic,” he said.
“If another player made the same mistakes as me, they would defend him. When it’s me, they do not defend me. But it’s okay, it’s what made me stronger.
“I’m talking about racism. I’m not saying it’s asserted racism, but latent racism. That’s it, I’m sure. If my name was Svensson or Andersson, or if I was blonde, they would defend me even if I robbed a bank.
“I’m probably the best Swedish player in history. What I did, no-one had done before. The record of number of times anyone had won the Swedish Player of the Year was two. And how many did I win? Eleven. It never happened before. I’ve done for Swedish football what nobody has. I’m the best.”
There has always been an inexplicable measure of antipathy – or reservations at the very least – towards iconic athletes who aren’t viewed as completely indigenous to the nation they represent. The same can be seen with Sir Mo Farah, Britain’s most successful track athlete of all time, in this country.
Zlatan had to push harder at a young age to combat this embedded handicap and develop a no-nonsense, ruthless attitude towards asserting himself on the pitch in response to the taunts and jibes he would have received from teammates and locals.
Not so fun fact: while Sweden is often considered to have a superb quality of life, they were the last country to abandon the practice of eugenics back in 1980. Combine this with the high levels of immigration from those fleeing conflicts in Yugoslavia and Latin America from 1970 and you get a picture of the complicated social landscape in Sweden during Zlatan’s early years.
Growing up in a principally white, blonde country ruthlessly against outsiders in the 1990s forced Zlatan to develop thick skin and made him into the insuperable character he is to this day, and one can only hope that Sweden, in posterity, moves past its inherent racism and fully appreciates the greatest sportsman they’ve ever produced.