**Editor’s note: This is the first of three pieces by Travis for our upcoming collection entitled: 40 Years of Rebellion.**
In his book “I am Zlatan”, the enormous Swede details on his hard upbringing in Malmo, partially economic, partially his tough father. In the beginning of the book, he talks about his family life and the type of environment it was, stating “we didn’t run around hugging each other. No one asked “How was your day today little Zlatan”, nothing like that.” He goes on to talk about how his father would have sacrificed rent in order for him to play and travel with his current team at the time. All of this gives us an insight to what molded Zlatan into who he is today, but the biggest one to me, is when the big man –talking about his coaching and the way he played as a youngster—gives us his football philosophy, something that has stuck from his youth till now:
“I thought that one should listen to them and learn their stuff, zonal play, tactics and all that. But at the same time not listen. Like still continue with the dribbling and the tricks. Listen, don’t listen!”
A man of his own mind. No conformity, listens, but doesn’t listen. A rebel in the football spectrum that is flooded with hordes of media-trained athletes, always trying to please fans and managers –an impossible task–, scared to be criticized and weary of the spotlight. Zlatan stands tall because rather than shun who he is for acceptance, he became so great that the coaches and the fans were forced to deal with him. Why join them when you can beat them?
Zlatan has admitted that he has picture of his feet framed in his house, a bigger trophy than the numerous ones that he won with various team in different countries. The same feet that he used to run away from his mother’s crying after his sister was doing drugs, the same feet that carried him through the dark tunnels across the Annelunds Bridge where his father was beat up and where he used the lampposts as beacons to get home. “If I run fast enough things will be alright”
A man like Zlatan, who as a youngster had less money than his teammates and rather than feeling sorry for himself constituted that he would be “The kid that didn’t have”, who didn’t let neither his family’s problems, his economic background or his coaches keep him from his dreams is surely not the same arrogant asshole that the media paints him as. More so, he’s a man who thinks for himself, rises to challenges: playing for Barcelona, playing and scoring for both Milan-based teams, beating English teams, going to PSG at the wrong side of 30. A rebel with that amount of self-believe will rise to any challenge.
And since bad boys don’t die, they just multiply.
Mario Balotelli, a teammate of Zlatan at Inter has picked up the mantle as the bad boy rebel of this generation of footballers. A black Italian: orphan of Ghanaian ancestry, and a past just as troubled as Ibra’s. Known for his “wild” antics, he has set bathrooms on fire with fireworks, crashed into a women’s prison, had his car impounded 27 times among many other things. Here’s also a man who lives by his own rules and is good enough that the world has to bend to them.
With his identity being in nature, rebellious to social norms, it is no wonder that his attitude follows. What are social norms to a man willing to break the no touching rule at a strip club? Before him, there were no blacks in the Italian national team and fans at the beginning were all too ready to remind him. But he scored, and he scores, beautiful goal after another, critical and emphatic. During the Euros 2012, it would seem that he had a competition with Zlatan (Who played for AC Milan at the time, Balotelli’s boyhood club, a club which he now plays at. Cassano also played there. Bad boys United) to see who would score the most ridiculous goal: After a cross from the right side, Zlatan executed a perfect sideways bicycle volley, an exclamation mark on their victory over France in the last group game. Not to be outdone, Mario would score an eerily similar goal against Ireland. Side volley, perfect technique but because he is Mario, he had a defender draped over him in contrast to Zlatan’s. The goal not being enough, Mario was prepared to express himself verbally after being derided for his two previous lackluster matches but Bonucci, a smart man, covered his mouth.
His once famous celebration of exposing a shirt underneath his kit that read “Why always me?” is a testament to the world’s obsession with him because we don’t just like rebels, we crave them. So the few that we have, we make them into legends, into myths whether right or wrong. So while he throws darts at youth teams players, we run with those stories, make them bigger, badder, more fire! But still he remains a rebel, a beacon of light in a terribly dull atmosphere of rehearsed answers and actions. So while other players go home and pick mushrooms on their day off, Mario might spend his driving around the city with the top of his car down, high-fiving fans in celebration and Zlatan might show you that he can do with an orange, what John Carew attempts with a ball.
The collection is available here. Travis writes for Surreal Football . You can follow him on twitter @Zitov2