Skip to main content

Football Film: Becoming Zlatan

Before watching Becoming Zlatan (2016) I knew precisely three things about Zlatan Ibrahimovic: He's Swedish, he plays for Manchester United, and he's good. I'd also heard he was kind of an egotistical prima donna but so are a lot of great athletes and who can blame them? It takes a thick skin, a big ego, and a superhuman amount of confidence (not to mention actual talent) to be successful in professional sport.

After having watched Becoming Zlatan, I feel inclined to forgive Zlatan for any sins of excessive egotism. The film details his transition from schoolboy footballer, to his first professional football club in Sweden, Malmo FF, to his formative years as a pro, under the gun at Ajax FC in Amsterdam, where he flourishes under the intense pressure and competition for the number one striker spot, until he is scooped up by Juventus FC in the Italian Serie A.

It is a really bizarre thing to see Zlatan, the gargantuan talent that he is today, before he was "Zlatan" and when he was a gangly, vulnerable, yet still somehow supremely confident teenager. And what you end up admiring is that he earned the right, through tenacity, determination, toughness and grit, to be as full of himself as he is and, in fact, that may be why he succeeded in the first place: his absolute, rock-solid confidence in himself and knowledge that he's the best player on the face of the earth.

This is particularly evident during his tenure at Ajax. While not his first professional gig, it was certainly his introduction to "real" European football, with extremely judgmental, temperamental fans, and someone ready to take his position away from him at a any moment. This comes to a head in his battle for the No. 9 spot on Ajax's first team, against Mido, a battle which tested his resilience and resolve and which undoubtedly shaped his career.

The film is not a PR puff-piece about Zlatan's career, however. It treats his dark side -- his often impetuous, rash, even violent behavior on the pitch -- with equal time and with the same neutral lens as it treats his success. With no "voice-over" narration, the interviews and action sequences are able to speak for themselves.

One of the highlights of the film is the interview with Leo Beenhakker, the outspoken former Ajax manager and technical director who insisted on purchasing Zlatan from Malmo and who does not mince words, dropping repeated F-bombs. Just another great character of European football.


Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review #146: "Three Short Moments in a Long Life" by John L'Heureux

Issue: May 9, 2016

Story: "Three Short Moments in a Long Life" by John L'Heureux

Rating: $

Review: I feel like this is a somewhat tired technique, straight out of Creative Writing 101: write a story consisting of three or four different snapshots or snippets out of a character's life at different ages, sort of like a series of written photographs. Fun perhaps, but strikes me as a bit amateurish. However, I also think L'Heureux succeeds here by pushing it a bit further, playing with the character's tentative attempts at something close to faith -- in childish, adult, and mature adult ways -- and tying all three "Short Moments" together in a subtle and readily decipherable way.

L'Heureux's prose and his frank humor and his ability to glorify and find the meaning in the mundane events and thoughts of every day life, and thereby turn the life of an ordinary person into a drama with meaning and significance puts me in mind of John Irving. As well a…

New Yorker Fiction Review #151: "The Bog Girl" by Karen Russell

From the June 20 issue...

My loyal readers (if there are still any, which I doubt) will know I'm usually not a fan of Magical Realism, which, as you may also know, is Karen Russell's stock in trade. That said, there's nothing I love more than having my antipathy for magical realism shattered by an awesome story like "The Bog Girl."

Briefly, an Irish teenager discovers the body of a young woman who as been buried in a bog for over 2,000 years and begins to date her. What more do you need, right? If I'd read that one-line description somewhere else, and wasn't on a mission to review every New Yorker short story, I doubt I'd have read "The Bog Girl." But maybe I should start doing a George Costanza and do the opposite of everything I think I should do.

Where Russell succeeds here is in two main areas: 1.) Making us really love Cillian, the teenager who falls in love with the bog girl, and 2.) pulling the unbelievable trick making the characters…

Water Review: San Pellegrino 250ml Bottle

Damn you, tiny little bottle of San Pellegrino. So little. So cute. But what are you really good for other than to make me wish I had a full bottle of Pellegrino? 
Good as a palate cleanser after a nice double espresso, I will give it that. But little else. The suave yet chaotic burst of Pellegrino bubbliness is still there, but with each sip you feel the tragedy of being that much closer to the end of the bottle, that much faster.

This is a bottle of water made specifically for the frustrated, for the meticulous, for the measurers among us with a penchant for the dainty. This water does not love you in the wild, on a sunny porch or with the raucous laughter of friends. No...much the opposite. Whatever that may be.

Best drunk in tiny, tiny sips, while forcing oneself through an unreadable and depressing Russian novel one does not want to read but feels one should, on a cold, wet day in December that promises four months of gloom and depression...or in pairs or threes and poured over …