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Can the man behind the brand be glimpsed behind a wry smile? Photo: Karl Nordlund
Can the man behind the brand be glimpsed behind a wry smile? Photo: Karl Nordlund

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Zlatan – the legend

I aim for the jugular. Get stuck in. Get involved, stand out, don’t apologize or steer away from the box. That’s how Zlatan Ibrahimović works – and it’s how I work. Sometimes.

I’m with Kalle the photographer in a tiny, stifling room at perfume company Givaudan’s Paris office. We’ve had a long wait. We’re tired, hungry, and tense. There’s no sign of Zlatan at all. Suddenly, the door flies open. Ibrahimović strides in followed by four members of his perfume and brand team.

ZLATAN’s here! I stick to my plan. Before we’ve even sat down I launch a volley. 

“I’ve also played football. In the Swedish premier league.” “Is that so,” Zlatan says looking me straight in the eye. “Yep,” I say. “Before you were born.”

Never talks about money...

Zlatan Ibrahimović

Born: October 3, 1981 in Malmö, Sweden
Lives: Paris, France
Family: Partner Helena Seger, two sons, ­Maximilian and Vincent
Career: He has won 14 league titles in 16 seasons for 6 clubs in 4 countries (The Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and France) 

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Ibrahimović is said to be worth SKr 1.2 billion (Veckans Affärer, July 2014). At least. But when it comes to talking openly about his money, business strategies, and brand, Zlatan greets you with a wall of silence.

Ahead of the interview in Paris, his brand agent, Mika Lepistö, said, in a firm but friendly tone, “Best you ask Zlatan. He knows everything about all the figures and what he wants and doesn’t want. I’m lying low.”

Despite keeping quiet when it comes to money, Zlatan is fun, warm, and charming. He’s a total professional – from his tight hair bun down to his size 47 shoes. This past season is a prime example of his professionalism and ability to always up the ante.

In May, the soon-to-be 35-year-old was named Ligue 1’s Player of the Year, outing doubters in shame. Nobody’s going to tell Zlatan when and how to retire. That’s completely up to Zlatan himself. For our interview, Zlatan glides in wearing black, waxed sweatpants, a white T-shirt, and black trainers. Very casual but naturally very expensive and exclusive.

...and only does business that gives a good feeling

Camilla (C): How do you choose your business partners? Vitamin Well, Dressmann, your own perfume, the Zlatan Unplugged app, Volvo. I can’t see any common denominator.
Zlatan (Z): First and foremost, I want to believe in what I do and say yes to and believe in it. If I don’t get a good feeling, I don’t want to work with it.

C: Everyone around you confirms that you’re very careful about who you want to work with.
Z: Exactly – it’s me that chooses them. Not the other way round.

C: Was that the case with Volvo?
Z: Naturally. Volvo was a small company before they met me. First it was “Made by Sweden,” now it’s “Made by Zlatan” (laughs). Jeez, the first week after my ad appeared, Volvo sold more than they normally sell in six months. That’s nothing I need to boast about, the results speak for themselves. But those are the kinds of things I look for, exciting projects. Ideally, working with smaller companies and making them… massive.

"Volvo was a small company before they met me"

Zlatan looks very pleased with himself.

Z: For the kicks. It was like when I played for Inter Milan, they hadn’t won the league for 17 years. Ronaldo and all the others had played there, and people said I wouldn’t win anything if I went there. We won the league in my first, second, and third ­seasons. Volvo and Inter, maybe not exactly comparable, but they’re the same kind of kick I look for.

I still can’t see the common denominator in all his brands. Is it ultimately purely about money? It’s easier to understand Zlatan’s entrance into the perfume sector. He was a working class kid who is now welcomed in the most elegant scent salons in Paris. 

The first Zlatan Ibrahimović Parfums product was launched in 2014 by the Amazing Brands perfume company. It was a scent for men and devised at the Givaudan laboratories. He is about to launch new two new scents: SUPRÊME pour femme and SUPRÊME pour homme, just in time for Euro 2016, this summer’s European football tournament. 

C: How do the new scents differ from your first perfume?
Z: First and foremost, there is now a scent for ladies. And they are both more summery, reflecting sea, sand, and walking barefoot along a beach.

C: The word is that you were inspired by a song you heard on a family holiday in Mexico.
Z: True. All the time I had an image of my son Maximilian in front of me, walking hand in hand with his girlfriend – who in the image was my teammate Maxwell’s daughter (laughs). Strange, I know, he’s too young for that, but that was how it was. She had on a white shawl that was catching in the wind. So now my dream team (points to Jessica Dersén and Marie Klockare Carlzon from Amazing Brands) has brought this image to reality. It’s going to be exciting.

C: Has your partner Helena been involved in the fragrance for women?
Z: Not at all. She’s totally out of the picture. But the perfume includes everything I would want her scent to be.

C: What should a woman’s scent be like?

Zlatan shifts his gaze and the team start squirming.

Z: She… she should exude a sense of attitude, of dominance. Something you’re constantly attracted to. Or something we men want to be attracted to.

Some time later, we meet Olivier Pescheux, the nose behind the three perfumes, in his scent palace on Avenue Kléber in Paris. As one of the world’s most renowned perfumiers, he has developed the new fragrances together with the Zlatan team.

The large Givaudan laboratory is in the basement. Over one hundred people are employed to distill the delights that Pescheux’s nose has identified. Strangely enough, the spacious premises barely smell of anything.

Pescheux passionately explains how the scents combine citrus tones with an under­lying woodiness, balanced between fruity bergamot, green mandarin, and peony. The perfume world consists of top notes, heart notes, and the fundamental base note. I can’t resist saying it sounds a bit like building a team. The important blend of the individual versus the team, of getting the right balance of strikers, midfielders, and defenders.

“Zlatan’s incredibly friendly and interested in the work we do here. That’s not always the case in this industry,” Pescheux reveals with a gentle smile. How would you describe Zlatan as a business­person?
“Very professional and balanced.”

Everyone around him, including Zlatan himself, claims that there’s no specific business plan for him after football. If there is, they’re keeping quiet about it. What do you think?

(Pescheux laughs heartily.)

“Well… I think the exact opposite. Zlatan probably has a very clear picture in his head about his future.”

Zlatan doing what Zlatan does best: Scoring goals. The big man will have to carry an entire nation this summer. Photo: Getty Images

But what about the life after football?

Ibrahimović will be 35 in October. He’s been playing football at the very highest international level for 15 years. Euro 2016 is just round the corner, but sooner or later even Zlatan will have to hang up his boots. Where will his burning drive and love of football take him then?

Zlatan’s somewhat evasive. One minute he says he has no idea what will happen after his football career, the next minute that “there’s a lot in the pipeline, really big things.”

On the other hand, during our conversation, he keeps coming back to his longing for a quieter life – away from the celebrity spotlight.

C: Maybe you want to be a full-time dad?
Z: I don’t know (puffs out his cheeks). A bit of everything, I think. Enjoy life, sit down for the first time and look back and be pleased with what I’ve achieved, of the career I’ve had.

C: Have you never been satisfied so far? Sounds a bit sad...
Z: It’s not really my thing to sit down and feel satisfied. But in the future, maybe. I intend to keep going with my projects at least.

C: You’re wealthy, famous, and have plenty of power. People listen to you. You’ve every chance to do something amazing, make a real difference to society.

(Zlatan rubs his hands together.)

Z: I do my best. But I also have a life to live, too. I’ve got my own problems, believe me. If the world has problems, I too have problems. And I have my own family, need to take care of them, take care of the people close to me. There are many mouths to feed. There are plenty of things people don’t see, because I don’t want them to be seen.

C: Are you interested in politics?
Z: Politics… Zlatan and politics don’t go together. When it comes to politics, I don’t want to get involved, I don’t belong in that world. I help in the way I can – by playing football.

C: What about your sons, Maximilian and Vincent? What’s the most important thing you want to give them as a father?
Z: Self-discipline. It’s about respect. They should be able to stand on their own two feet, to take care of themselves. As long as they live under my roof, at least. So how would you summarize that? Plenty of self-discipline? (laughs.)
Z: Maxi and Vincent need to learn to work hard. Nothing comes free in this world. Obviously, they’ve had it easier than I had, but that doesn’t matter, they will have the same upbringing as I’ve had. And even better. They don’t live off my name, or what I do, absolutely not.

C: How did it come about that your boys and partner Helena featured in the Volvo ad with you?
Z: Because it was an exciting thing for the whole family. But the basic idea is that Maxi and Vincent shouldn’t live in the shadow of what someone else has done.

C: Because you aren’t Zlatan to your sons, you’re their dad.
Z: Yes I hope so. (Cue laughter around the room.)

It’s hard to know what to make of Zlatan. He’s so professional and charming – big on every level. And he is extremely skillful at hiding the real guy behind the Zlatan Ibrahimović brand. The guy that doesn’t always have to perform, that can be a bit uncertain and even slightly vulnerable.

Maybe, just maybe, that Zlatan can be glimpsed ­behind a wry smile, behind hands that are often ­tightly clasped together, or when his gaze seems miles away.

But these glimpses are few and far between and they are almost always interrupted by the poser. ­Zlatan cracks a one liner, Zlatan cracks a huge smile, Zlatan contorts his body. He’s good at that, Zlatan. And it isn’t easy to steer your own course in the company of the Great One.

And yet. The other guy’s in there, it’s just a matter of reading between the Zlatanistic lines.

Zlatan being interviewed by Camilla Tollstoy. Photo: Karl Nordlund

A case of Zlatan disease

Photographer Kalle shuffles impatiently in the background. He needs to take some shots. But I’m not finished. Not yet. The conversation goes into extra time – into the 93rd minute. But as I started the meeting with a volley, I aim to end it in style. Slowly, I head for the penalty spot. Take my time before I carefully place the ball, take a few steps back. Then launch myself.

C: Now I get a little bit personal here. I was diagnosed with ADHD just before I reached the age of 50.
Z: OK.

C: When I read your book and what I’ve seen and heard about you so far, I don’t think it’s entirely unthinkable that you could be given a similar diagnosis. For instance, there’s plenty of things going on around you. And you don’t always seem in total control of your impulses.
Z: I’m myself, that’s what’s important.

C: Have you had a check-up for this kind of diagnosis?
Z: I probably have “Zlatan disease.” It infects everyone around me. You too. (laughs) But no, you are who you are, people either respect this or they simply have to accept it. The important thing is to surround yourself with people with positive energy. You’ll never get anywhere with people with negative energy. Better to have positive energy around you, and if people then call this ADHD, it doesn’t matter. If you’re cool with that, you’ll be fine.

C: But have you had a diagnosis?
Z: Let’s call it a case of Zlatan disease.

C: We can agree at least that you’ve exploited your surplus energy to the maximum.
Z: Yep, I’m FULL of energy. As a rule, I’m never this open with journalists, believe me. It feels good, this.

C: Thank you very much.
Z: Thank you too. 


Text: Camilla Tollstoy

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