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: "The Apologizer" by Milan Kundera

Issue: May 4, 2015

Rating: $$

Review: It took me five years and three separate attempts to finish Milan Kundera's famous novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but in spite of that, quotes and insights from that book still rattle round my head on a weekly basis. What I mean to say is: my feelings on Kundera are very similar to my feelings on Haruki Murakami. I enjoy reading his work, but in small doses, like this short story.

Like Murakami, Kundera uses elements of magical realism, but where in a Murakami story you might encounter a flying dolphin or a disappearing hotel or a person who has lived his whole life in the same room, refusing to leave, Kundera's magical realism offers more direct insights and perspective on real life.

In Kundera's worlds, time and space are malleable and everything that ever happened in history is happening at the same time, and the narrator is a completely omniscient, caring, witty, and hands-on god-like being.

And so it is with "The Apo…

New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "Meet the President!" by Zadie Smith

Each week I review the short fiction from a recent issue of The New Yorker. If you told me when I was 12 that I'd be doing this I'd have been like, "Dork. There's no such thing as blogs," and I'd have been right...

Issue: Aug. 12 & 19, 2013

Story: "Meet the President!"

Author:Zadie Smith

(Please note: I've developed a highly sophisticated grading system, which I'll be using from now on.  Each story will now receive a Final Grade of either READ IT or DON'T READ it. See the bottom of the review for this story's grade...after you've read the review, natch.)

Plot: Set in England, far into the future (lets say 2113) a privileged youth of 15, named Bill Peek, encounters a few poor villagers from a small, abandoned coastal town on the southeast shore. He meets a little girl named Aggie, who is going to her sister's funeral. Peek is cut-off from real life by a sophisticated video game system that is implanted in his head, therefore th…

A Piece of Advice I Learned From My Grandfather

My grandfather was one of the most learned men I know. He read widely and voraciously, and not just in the sciences (he was a doctor); he loved politics, philosophy, and great literature as well. Whenever he finished a book he would write his thoughts about the book in the front cover and then sign and date it. To this day every once in a while I will open a book from my bookshelf or my mother's bookshelf, or at one of my family members' homes, and there will be my grandfather's handwriting. He was also a great giver of his books; if you remarked that you liked a particular one or wanted to read it, you were almost sure to take it home with you.

Reading is a very solitary pursuit but my grandfather was not a solitary person. He relished having family and friends around him which is convenient because he was blessed with a lot of both. And he carried out his intellectual life in a very "public" way as well. He was, in some ways, an intellectual evangelist. If he r…