Speaking in an extensive, exclusive interview with Le Monde, PSG striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic axalked all things off the football field. In full.
Let’s talk about money…
Ok, let’s talk about money. I think that money makes everything easier even if it does not make you more happy. That is at least what people should think.
In 2015, your salary was 30 million Euros.
It is a lot.
What is “a lot”? I do not know what “a lot” is. For me, we buy players on the market who should not even be there. But it is the market that decides the price, not passion or the media.
And whether or not it is “a lot” is not my problem. I only care about what the market says. The market says: “That is your price. That is what the market says.”
If a player earns so much, and I earn ten times more than what he does, what does that mean? It just means ten times more.
Can you understand that the millions in football can shock people, especially during an economic crisis?
Do you know how much tax I pay?
No, but are you going to tell us…
What sort of President is François Hollande? I help this country more than he does.
The 75% tax-rate is being done away with…
Ok. Are you sure? Because me, I continue to pay it. I can tell you that because I personally declare my taxes. I pay my taxes. I help this country a lot.
Are you talking about the President? I do not know him personally. I do not know what to say about him.
Before the Coupe de France final, had you already met him?
No. He had not had the pleasure of meeting me.
You arrived in France in the year that he was elected. You are very popular and François Hollande is very unpopular. How do you explain how a president can become so unpopular?
I think that either you are popular or you are not. What is important is to be yourself and I am myself. But I cannot speak for him because I do not know him. But I can make him popular if I want to. But I do not know if I want to.
Should he pursue a second term in 2017?
I do not know. To be honest, I do not even know if he is doing a good job. That is up to you, France, to decide.
You do not seem concerned about what is going on in France?
It is not my area of expertise. What I do is make children happy and play football. But not politics. I cannot speak about politics because I know nothing about politics.
Are you more on the left or more on the right?
I consider myself everywhere. Because I am a man of the people.
What do you think about the refugee situation?
I think that we should be able to help all the refugees who come from abroad. I am for peace and love, like I have already said. We should be able to help everyone as much as we can.
I remember when there was the war in former Yugoslavia, many family members moved to Sweden. My father helped them as much as he could. This is an important issue in the world.
Have you been a victim of racism?
I have not been a victim but I have been confronted by it. Because I have different origins. Everywhere that I have been, I have wiped away stupid comments.
After your departure from Juventus, the club’s supporters mocked Zlatan the “Zigaro” in a song…
I remember it very well. Those people who were saying that were not educated. I am not here to educate the world. I am here to enjoy my football and to give people enjoyment through my football.
Are you worried about the rise of the extreme right in Europe?
I am not worried because the truth will prevail.
How did you deal with the terrorist attacks on November 13th?
I was very sad. It was very dark in my mind. What happened should have never happened. And not only in Paris, but everywhere in the world. For me, life is “peace and love”. I love the entire world wherever the place or wherever you come from.
I play football, and for me, football, I see it as a religion. Everyone is welcome, wherever you are from. Football is the greatest sport in the world. It connects people. I am lucky and happy to play football and to be part of this, to be able to make a difference and to contribute to change something.
Are you talking about France…
Ibra came and he took the power in France.
No, I think that is enough.
France was shocked when you spoke about the “shit country” after a match in Bordeaux, in March 2015.
But it was in terms of football. That had nothing to do with the country. Football and the country are two entirely separate worlds. I made a mistake because I said something about football and not the country.
You cannot judge something that you do not know. You cannot not love this country where you have been for four years. If you did not love it, you would leave. I stayed in France because I like France, so that comment had nothing to do with the country. Football, aside from that, is different.
What does that mean?
I think that French football is progressing, it is in the process of developing, it is becoming better. When I arrived, it was different. It is a work in progress.
PSG became the champions of France for the fourth consecutive time with 29 points clear. Do you really see progress?
Yes I see it. The league is becoming better. But it can be even better.
Paris, c’est magique! I think that the club has developed a lot in four years. When I arrived, the club had finished second in the league. Some people still remember what PSG was like before, fighting in the middle of the table.
The club has become bigger, it is growing each day. But there is still a lot of work to do.
And Laurent Blanc?
I think that Laurent Blanc has done fantastic work with PSG. In three seasons, he won us 12 trophies. He allowed the team to play very well. I love his philosophy a lot and the way he works. The results are very positive.
Is he among your best ever managers?
He is one of the best managers in the sense where we win trophies. Because when I met Laurent Blanc, I already felt like I was the complete footballer. When you are young, you are still in the development phase.
But when I arrived in Paris, I was 31. So I felt I was already complete. What he wanted from me, everybody knew. It was not like I still needed to learn something else. That made work easier for him and for me. We worked for the same goal: to win.
And with Guardiola?
Guardiola, as a coach, he is fantastic. As a person, I feel differently.
Was your time at Barcelona the biggest disappointment of your career so far?
I had some very good moments over there. I learnt a lot in a positive way, also in a negative way. It made me stronger. I learnt, for example, that football can change within 24 hours. Because what you are today, you might not necessarily be tomorrow.
Where does PSG sit among the best clubs in the world?
If you compare all the clubs that I have been with, Milan, historically, was the biggest. It is known around the world. Milan, it was something incredible. In every aspect. All of the players were internationals, elegant…
It was really excellent. You could see the power and feel the dimension of the club. PSG is still in the process of growing but it is not quite there yet.
What are PSG missing in order to win the Champions League?
I do not think that it is a situation of what PSG is missing or not. The time will come when PSG will win the Champions League. It is not as if you can just clap your hands together and say: “This year, I am going to win it.”
The project only started four years ago and, in four years, PSG has done enormous things, magical things. And in such a short period of time, it is not normal. Normally, it takes time to get results.
It is like my brand (AZ Sportswear), we started it a year or a year and a half ago. Normally, it takes more time to develop products and instead we are here and we are ready.
And what about Qatar in all of this?
They are the big investor in PSG. I do not have much information about Qatar as a country, I have only been three or four times. I quite liked it, growth is in full swing.
Their aim is the 2022 World Cup. It is thanks to them that I am here. Because without Qatar, France would have never seen me play. Therefore, you should thank them. And I thank them too for having enabled me to get to know the lovely city that Paris is.
Jean Michel Aulas, the President of Lyon, who finished second to PSG this year, believes that Qatar has killed Ligue 1…
Who? If I was him, I would focus on my team, and on winning, and not on what other teams are doing. Since I have arrived in France, he has won nothing and I have won everything. He should focus on himself.
But PSG destroyed the league this season and won the Coupe de France and the Coupe de la Ligue…
I think that when you have the best players, you win. So you need to invest a little bit and President Aulas should sign the best players. And also find a good sponsor.
Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup. Are you relieved that you will not be able to take part?
No, I would like to play in it because I think that the stadiums will be incredible and to play at a World Cup is an incredible experience. It is something that not everyone has the chance to do. I like playing so I would like to participate.
You will be 40 in 2022…
I feel younger with each year that passes. So thankfully, I will still be very young.
There is an investigation ongoing vis-à-vis the attribution of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar and suspicions of corruption…
The people who are investigating have to prove it. If they prove nothing, you can say nothing. You cannot judge someone without proof.
Do you understand the doubts?
No. For me, there are no doubts.
And what about doping?
It does not exist in my world. I do not need it, I am stronger than the dopers.
Recently, a lot of scandals have hit athletics, cycling, rugby… Is football the only sport without doping?
I hope so and I believe so.
You have never seen anything?
No, I have never seen anything.
A bit more than 10 years ago, Juventus was at the centre of a rigorous investigation concerning doping…
I arrived just after the investigation. When I was over there, I never saw anything and nothing ever happened. We have anti-doping tests every second week. And especially in Italy, at that time, we had a doping test every week.
On the 10th June, the Euros start…
Sweden is in the Euros and we are there to win it. The Euros are in France and we are very happy to be there, especially me. Because I have been here for four years and I have the chance to play for my country in France.
I will have two sets of supporters: the Swedish, who will support us, and the French, who will also support us. Sweden is my homeland, where I grew up. I am Sweden.
When you published your autobiography in France, three years ago, you said that you did not consider yourself as a “typical Swede”…
No, I am not a typical Swede because I am different. You will not find many of them like me. Because there will only ever be one Zlatan.
Will the Euros be your last ever major competition with your national team?
I do not know. I have not thought about it. Even if… No, I have not really thought about it. We will see what happens.
And Rio, will they be your first Olympics?
Yes, I am very interested. It wouldn’t be bad. But the same as with the Euros, we will see what happens. There are lots of things that I need to think about at the moment.
If I say the word “gold” to you…
Zlatan means “gold” in ex-Yugoslavia. It is my brand. And it is the principal colour that we have chosen for my clothing brand. It is a reference to my name and a colour that I like.
But to possess gold, that is not my aim. That adds nothing. I think it is people who should be golden, not objects.
Do you regret the fact that you have never won the Ballon D’Or?
No. People speak a lot about the Ballon D’Or or the Champions League. But to win those would not change you as a footballer. You stay the same player. It does not make you better or worse. That is my philosophy.
If I win the Champions League, that everyone has said that I have not won, it would not make me better. The Ballon D’Or, it is the same. It is an ornament in a room. And it is not always the best players who win it. My life goes on. It does not change the way I think about victory.
So only winning matters?
I consider myself a winner because I have won everywhere I went. I do not believe in defeat but I also see it as a way of learning.
If I say the word “stadium” to you, what does it make you think?
It makes me think of a battlefield, an arena, a Colosseum. That is where I belong and where I win over the crowd. It is the field where I win with the crowd cheering me on whilst doing what I am good at.
Is it a theatre or a reflection of society?
A theatre? I do not do theatre, I carry out battles. It is a battlefield where I win my victories.
Stop playing the bad boy image…
I like it! How do you say? I do not deny it. If you think that I am a bad boy, then I am a bad boy. I do not have a problem with that. I do not pretend to be one thing or another. There are so many players who play a character and pretend to be something that they are not.
Me, I am myself, from A to Z. And I do not think I am offending other players by saying that. They see it differently.
Is your ponytail also part of your character?
Do you know the story about the God-like character Samson? Where were his powers? In his hair. The longer they were, the more powerful he became. That is how I feel. The longer my hair, the stronger I feel.
Is it not tacky to have a ponytail in 2016?
No, I feel powerful. I feel stronger with my long hair and my ponytail.
Do your tattoos serve the same purpose?
Each one is a chapter of my life. Each tattoo has its own story. It is something assertive. I have no regrets. I love them. And I like the suffering that you endure when you get a tattoo.
Which story brought about the tattoo: “Only God can judge me.”
Read it and understand it. I cannot explain it to you. Because if you do not understand “only God can judge you,” then who can judge you?
What mark are you going to leave?
The day that I stop football, I want to be at the top. I want to do something that has never been seen before. People are going to ask questions and remember it. And it is like that, that is how it must be.
Same thing in fashion?
Fashion is not my passion but I wanted to develop training gear. I know what we need to train. And I also know that clothes do not make you better. I am realistic.
Do you consider yourself to be a fashion icon?
Yes, I consider myself to be an icon but in different worlds. In the world of sport and of football, I have my own clothing brand, I have perfumes… For my brand, I am also an icon. And I am happy about that.
How does one become an icon?
I think that one becomes an icon naturally. It is automatic, it is not something that we choose to be. And I feel that I am an icon for the people, especially in my country. Because you were just speaking about President Hollande, because we are in France, but for me Sweden is the most important because I represent it wherever I go.
It is my territory. Wherever I go, I always come back to Sweden. It is my home.
Exactly, portraits of you have been painted onto buildings in Stockholm and in Paris…
I am still waiting for the Eiffel Tower. They haven’t changed it yet.
Do you have role models?
I have certain people I like: I like Mohamed Ali. He talked, he did things and nobody could say anything back. It is the way that I like for people to be. Different and making a difference.
Bruce Lee was cool too but he was a long time ago. But Bruce Lee was very cool.
That is my mum. She is something special. She means an enormous amount to me. Without her, I would not be here. She had a difficult life. She worked hard. She is like me, working hard in what I do. She has 5 children. She is a very strong woman. She made me stronger.
If I said to you Nobel…
It is the only prize that I have not yet won. I still have time to win it.
Aside from you, who would you give the Nobel prize to who is also a symbol in Sweden?
I think that you give the Nobel prize to someone who has made a difference, not solely in a one sector, but for the whole world. A genius who does something, who makes a difference.
I am not really involved and I do not know who could deserve it but that is the type of person that I would like to win such an honourable award.
You do not have some names in your head as to who you would give it to?
No, when I think about it, I do not have people or names in my head. I do not really know who I could give it to. Apart from myself, I do not know.
Did you know that Sepp Blatter dreamt of winning the Nobel Peace Prize?
We are lucky that he did not win it.
Do you have a dream?
It is good to have dreams but it is better to be realistic. Because a dream can destroy you.
Where are you taking your bags to next?
They are packed. Ready for holiday. I like travelling a lot. I like seeing the world. And I would like my family to acquire the experience and to learn whilst travelling around the world.
Malmö, Amsterdam, Turin, Milan, Barcelona, Paris… Your career has been a great journey.
My career is a great adventure.
Which city do you like the most?
Paris. You cannot compare it with other cities. Paris has something fascinating about it.
Does the Yuan mean anything to you?
I do not know currency exchanges.
Is China the new haven for footballers?
I think that it represents the future of football, yes.
Have you had an offer from a Chinese club?
No, not yet.
Joining up with your old team-mate Ezequiel Lavezzi in Shanghai, could that tempt you?
It could do. You never know.
Who is Zlatan?
Zlatan is Zlatan. That is enough of an explanation. Zlatan represents Zlatan.
Is Zlatan a fictional character?
No, I consider myself as normal, simple and quiet…