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‘Living legend’ Zlatan Ibrahimovic Comes To The Silver Screen

Even though he's still an active player, a new film premiering Friday is attempting to tell the story of Swedish footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic by focusing on the star's childhood growing up in a poor part of the city of Malmo.

Film posters are pictured prior to the gala premiere of the film ‘I Am Zlatan’, a biopic on the life of Swedish footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, in Stockholm on March 14, 2022. (Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP)

Even though he’s still an active player, a new film premiering Friday is attempting to tell the story of Swedish footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic by focusing on the star’s childhood growing up in a poor part of the city of Malmo.

Ibrahimovic, Sweden’s most successful player, still plays for AC Milan at age 40 and is known for his bravado and swagger, standing in contrast to his typically more humble compatriots.

After starting out with Sweden’s Malmo FF in 1999, he has gone on to play for major teams including Ajax, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United.

Pitched as a “true underdog story,” the movie “Jag ar Zlatan” (I am Zlatan), which premieres Friday, is based on the autobiographical book of the same name, but director Jens Sjogren told AFP that he wanted to hone in on the player’s early years.

“When I read the first chapters of the book I thought of my own childhood,” Sjogren said, adding that by focusing on the young Zlatan the movie is likely to appeal to not just those who have followed “Ibra’s” football career.

“Even though Zlatan had a rough childhood at times we have all been children and struggled with different things,” the 45-year-old director said.

For Sjogren it was important for the film to also tell the story from a child’s perspective.

“What’s he’s experiencing, we get to experience, but when there’s things he doesn’t hear or doesn’t understand then we as spectators shouldn’t understand that either,” he said.

‘Big honour’
The film starts following Zlatan from about aged 12, when he struggled in school. It also shows him moving away from his mother and in with his father before moving on to his first years as a professional player at Malmo and Ajax.

The perhaps somewhat daunting task of portraying a still living icon on screen was given to first-time actors Dominic Bajraktari Andersson, 15, and Granit Rushiti, 22, who are both playing Zlatan at different ages.

“He’s a great footballer, one of the best in the world. He’s a legend, so it’s of course a big honour for us to play him,” Rushiti told AFP.

As a former promising young footballer himself, though he had to retire after an injury, Rushiti said Zlatan had already been an inspiration to him.

“I’ve played football all my life so he’s been a big part of my life and my own football career. So I’ve taken a lot from him,” Rushiti said.

Both Rushiti and his younger co-star are, just like Zlatan himself, from Scania in Sweden’s far south.

“I haven’t always played football, but he’s been a role model in other ways. Like his demeanour and what he’s like as a person. We are roughly from the same area, the same city Malmo. So he’s been a great role model,” Andersson told AFP.

‘Living legend’
When the shooting of the movie was finished the two young actors also had the opportunity to meet Zlatan in Milan.

“Before we started recording the movie I thought that Zlatan was pretty tough, he almost looked scary. But when I met him he was very kind, he was very charming and joked around. He got me to relax and all the nervousness just disappeared,” Andersson said.

“It was like meeting a living legend that you’ve looked up to.”

Friday’s arrival of the film to cinemas is reserved for Zlatan’s home country of Sweden. More countries will follow though in the coming weeks.

While Zlatan’s status as the greatest football player Sweden has ever produced is undisputed in his home country, his star in his hometown of Malmo has faded somewhat.

Just months after a statue of the local hero was erected in Malmo, it became the target of multiple acts of vandalism after Ibrahimovic announced that he was buying a stake in Stockholm-based club Hammarby, Malmo’s rivals.

Seen as a betrayal by fans, the statue has been spray-painted, knocked over and parts of it have been sawn off.