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Z. Ibrahimović

From the Arsenal 'audition' to Guardiola's 'bullsh*t' - Zlatan Ibrahimovic's most colourful and controversial quotes

20:00 BST 28/07/2022
Zlatan Ibrahimovic Sweden press conference
The veteran striker is one of the great characters of the football world, but how often has he stepped over the line?

Love him or loathe him, it's impossible to ignore Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The Swedish superstar has just signed a new contract with AC Milan at the age of 40 – a testament to both his incredible talent and strength of character.

Indeed, while injuries have begun to take their toll in recent seasons, Ibrahimovic remains a towering presence in the modern game.

Milan coach Stefano Pioli has repeatedly hailed the striker for the transformative effect he had on the club from the moment he returned to San Siro in January 2020, eventually inspiring a relatively young squad to a surprise Serie A title triumph last season with his leadership skills, impressive professionalism and winning mentality.

It obviously helps that Ibrahimovic is as charismatic as it comes. He has long held the attention of the football world as much for what he says off the field, as what he does on it, so it's hardly surprising that younger team-mates often hang on his every word.

Of course, it all feels part of an act, almost a parody of the stereotypical arrogant footballer, one cleverly and cynical constructed to build a lucrative brand. As Olivier Giroud recently revealed, Ibrahimovic the man is very different to his egotistical Zlatan persona.

“He is a nice person," the veteran French forward told the Gazzetta dello Sport. "From the outside, he could seem focused on himself, but it’s not like this with those working with him every day."

Indeed, he once kicked Rodney Strasser in the head and yet the Sierra Leone international still insisted in a recent interview with the Corriere della Sera: "People think Ibra is a villain but he's a good guy, generous and nice."

However, many fans and pundits have long since grown weary of Ibrahimovic's antics and there is certainly no denying that he has occasionally stepped over the line.

Then again, his pithy put-downs and shocking outbursts are part of the reason why he remains one of the most polarising and fascinating figures in football, as underlined by the selection of his most colourful and controversial quotes below...

  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic Sweden 2002

    Rejecting Wenger

    Legendary Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was interested in signing a promising young forward by the name of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2000. The player was offered a trial. Ibrahimovic turned it down.

    “I was like, 'No way, Zlatan doesn't do auditions.' "I thought 'You either know me or you don't, and if you don't know me, you can't really want me'.”

  • John Carew Valencia Arsenal 2002

    Cutting Carew down to size

    The giant Norwegian striker John Carew once openly wondered if Ibrahimovic's tricks and flicks were really necessary. The slight provoked a predictably short and savage reply.

    "What Carew does with a football, I can do with an orange."

  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic Rafael van der Vaart Ajax

    Threatening Van der Vaart

    During their time together at at Ajax, Rafael van der Vaart suffered ankle ligament that he claimed was the result of a deliberate foul by Ibrahimovic. Zlatan disagreed with the Dutchman.

    "I didn’t injure you on purpose, and you know that. If you accuse me again I'll break both your legs, and that time it will be on purpose."

  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic Ajax 2001

    Humiliating Henchoz

    Ajax went up against Liverpool in a pre-season friendly in the summer of 2001. Ibrahimovic took Stephane Henchoz to the cleaners, first on the field, and then again off it.

    "First, I went left; he did too. Then, I went right, and he did too. Then, I went left again, and he went to buy a hot dog."

  • Mido Ajax 2002

    Mido madness

    Ibrahimovic had an unsurprisingly love-hate relationship with another combustible character in former Ajax forward Mido. In fact, it very nearly proved fatal.

    Back in 2003, Mido had been left enraged by his omission from the starting line-up for a game against Feyenoord. He was still fuming after the game and called all of his team-mates "c*nts". Zlatan pointed out that it was the Egyptian who was acting like a "c*nt", which only further infuriated Mido.

    "Mido picked up a pair of scissors and flung them at me. It was completely nuts. The scissors whizzed past my head, straight into the concrete wall and made a crack in it. I went over and gave him a smack, but 10 minutes later we left with our arms around each other. Much later I discovered our team manager had kept those scissors as a souvenir, to show his kids."

  • Oguchi Onyewu AC Milan 2009

    A brutal heavyweight bout

    Shortly before Milan's derby clash with Inter in 2010, Ibrahimovic, a black belt in taekwondo, had a training-ground dust-up with team-mate Oguchi Onyewu.

    "Onyewu resembled a heavyweight boxer. He was nearly 6ft 5in and weighed over 15 stone, but he couldn’t handle me. He accused me of trash talking, but that wasn’t true. People trash talk me. I’ve heard so much sh*t over the years: 'F*cking gypsy', stuff about my mum — all that stuff. I retaliate with my body, not with words.

    "I told Onyewu I did not trash talk, but he just kept on. He shushed me with his finger. Then he did it again. I saw red. I didn’t say anything, not a word. That b*stard was going to find out how I trash-talk! The next time he got the ball in training; I rushed towards him and jumped up with my feet and studs out in front — the worst type of tackle.

    "But he saw me and leapt out of the way. As we both crashed to the ground, my first thought was: 'Sh*t! I’ve missed!' As I got up and walked away I felt a blow to my shoulder. Not a good idea, Oguchi Onyewu.

    "I headbutted him, and we flew at each other. We wanted to tear each other limb from limb. It was brutal. We were rolling around, punching and kneeing each other. We were crazy and furious — it was like life and death."

  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic Pep Guardiola Barcelona 2010

    No fan of Pep talks

    Nobody has endured quite as many Ibra insults as Pep Guardiola. Indeed, it became clear very early on during the forward's solitary season at Barcelona, in 2009-10, that while Ibrahimovic was more than capable of adding a new dimension to the team's attacking play, he was not going to get on with the Catalan coach.

    "Guardiola started his philosopher thing. I was barely listening. Why would I? It was advanced bullsh*t about blood, sweat and tears – that kind of stuff."

  • Jose Mourinho Pep Guadiola Inter Barcelona 2010

    Guardiola vs Mourinho

    One of the key aspects of Ibrahimovic's issues with Guardiola stemmed from his belief that the Barca boss paled in comparison to his mentor, Jose Mourinho.

    "Mourinho is Guardiola's opposite. If Mourinho brightens up the room, Guardiola pulls down the curtains."

  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic Pep Guardiola Barcelona 2009

    Car trouble

    Ibrahimovic basically felt that whereas Mourinho understood him, both as a player and a person, Guardiola had no idea how to get the best out of him.

    "When you buy me, you are buying a Ferrari. If you drive a Ferrari, you put premium petrol in the tank, you hit the motorway and you step on the gas. Guardiola filled up with diesel and took a spin in the countryside. He should have bought a Fiat."

  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic Pep Guardiola Barcelona 2010

    Ibra's arch-enemy

    Things eventually came to a head in the dressing room after a Champions League loss to Ibrahimovic's former club, Inter, in 2010.

    "Guardiola was staring at me and I lost it. I thought 'There is my enemy, scratching his bald head!' I yelled to him: 'You have no balls!' And probably worse things than that."

  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic PSG Eiffel Tower 2012

    Zlatan's reputation precedes him

    Upon joining Paris Saint-Germain in 2012, Ibrahimovic openly admitted that he wasn't overly familiar with Ligue 1. But he didn't really feel it mattered.
    "It's true I don't know much about the players here, but they definitely know who I am."

  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic Al-Khelaifi Leonardo PSG 2012

    Hotel stay

    Still, while Ibrahimovic found it quite easy to prove himself on the pitch, house-hunting didn't prove quite so straightforward. Again, though, he wasn't unduly concerned.

    "We are looking for an apartment; if we do not find anything, then we will just buy a hotel."

  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic David Beckham PSG 2013

    Beckham's taste in music

    At PSG, Zlatan briefly had David Beckham for a team-mate. The Englishman may be a style icon but Ibrahimovic was less than impressed with his musical interests.

    "We were looking through his playlist in the dressing room. There was lots of Justin Bieber, Jonas Brothers and Selena Gomez. It is nice to know that even David Beckham doesn't have good taste in everything."

  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic Sweden press conference 2013

    Playing God

    Before Sweden's World Cup play-off with Portugal in 2013, Ibrahimovic was asked how he thought the tie would play out.

    Ibrahimovic: "Only God knows."
    Reporter: "It's hard to ask Him."
    Ibrahimovic: "You're talking to him now."

  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic Sweden Portugal 2013

    World Cup woe

    Hardly surprising, then, that when Sweden lost to Portugal, Ibrahimovic felt Brazil 2014 had been immediately devalued.

    "A World Cup without me is nothing to watch, so it it's not worth waiting for the World Cup."

  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic press conference 2008

    Sexual preferences

    Ibrahimovic was once asked to name the most beautiful woman in the world.

    "I haven't met her yet. But when I do, I'll date her."

    So, given he obviously sees himself as a model of masculinity, he was always going to take umbrage with a female reporter asking him if he were homosexual.

    "Come to my house and you'll see if I'm gay. And bring your sister."
    Meanwhile, a male reporter once enquired as to the origin of some scratches on Ibrahimovic's face.

    "You'll have to ask your wife that."

  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic Sweden 2014

    Sexism scandal

    In 2014, a journalist asked who was the better player: Ibrahimovic or Sweden women's striker, Lotta Schelin? Ibrahimovic was offended.

    "You're joking with me, right? When I've broken all these records, this goal record, the goals in the national team, who shall I compare it to? Shall I compare it to whoever has the record, or the ladies?

    "When I come out in Europe they compare me to Messi and Ronaldo. When I come home they compare me to a female player.

    "With all respect for what the ladies have done, and they've done it fantastically well, you can't compare men's and women's football. Give it up, it's not even funny."

    Amid the debate over inequality in Swedish football, it was pointed out that Anders Svensson was rewarded with a new Volvo for becoming the men's national team's most-capped player, even though no such prize was bestowed on the female record-holder Therese Sjogran.

    Ibrahimovic doubled down.

    "It is better to stay on that line instead of devaluing him by comparing him with the ladies' individual achievements. They can get a bike with my autograph and then we are good."

  • Radamel Falcao Atletico Madrid 2012

    Nicknames

    Radamel Falcao became known as 'El Tigre' because of his predatory skills in the penalty area. Ibrahimovic was unimpressed, though.

    "Who needs a nickname? To be afraid of me, just watch me play."

  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic PSG Bordeaux 2015

    An affront to France

    In March 2015, Ibrahimovic caused national uproar when he launched into an extraordinary tirade against referee Lionel Jaffredo after PSG's 3-2 loss to Bordeaux.

    "Wake up, wake up! We’re not amateurs. Fucking assh*le! I’ve never seen this in my 15 years playing football. I’ve been playing for 15 years and I’ve never seen [good] refereeing in this sh*t country. They don’t even deserve PSG in this country."

    Ibrahimovic subsequently apologised. Kind of...

    “I spoke about football. I lost the game, I accept that, but I can’t accept when the referee doesn’t follow the rules. It’s not the first time and I’m sick of it. My sincere apologies if anyone was offended, or took it the wrong way."

  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic Onuoha LA Galaxy Real Salt Lake 2019

    Anger issues

    Ibrahimovic had an ugly altercation with Real Salt Lake's Nedum Onuoha in 2019 which ended with the then-LA Galaxy striker throwing the defender to the ground.

    The Swede tried to apologise to Onuoha after the game, but the latter was having none of it. Ibra then tried to defend his actions in his post-match interview.

    "I like to feel alive. I like when it becomes duels and that, because sometimes – not that I fall asleep, but I don’t feel alive if they don’t actually activate me. When I get angry, I feel good."

  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic LA Galaxy 2018

    Too good for MLS

    Many pundits figured Ibrahimovic would retire after his spell in MLS with LA Galaxy. But rather than wear him out, his time in the US actually reinvigorated him.

    "I’m very thankful for MLS because they gave me the chance to feel alive. But the problem was I was still too alive. So, I was too good for the whole competition. That is what I showed...

    "You never know, maybe one day I’ll come back, to give them a reminder what real football is."

  • Romelu Lukaku Zlatan Ibrahimovic Inter AC Milan 2021

    Lukaku row

    Ibrahimovic and Lukaku had already been engaged in some one-upmanship online, essentially arguing over to whom the city of Milan belonged, when a seemingly friendly rivalry turned nasty during a derby in 2021.

    Just before the break in a Coppa Italia clash, the two strikers squared up to one another.

    Ibrahimovic allegedly told Lukaku, "Go do your voodoo sh*t, you donkey!"

    This was a pointed reference to past comments made by Everton owner Farhad Moshiri, who claimed that Lukaku dramatically refused to sign a renewal at the last minute after a phone call from his mother.

    "She was on a pilgrimage in Africa or somewhere, and he had a voodoo and he got the message that he needs to go to Chelsea."

    Lukaku reacted furiously to Ibra's reference to this claim, telling his opponent, "F*ck you and your wife!"

    Both players were booked after the melee that followed, and both were also investigated by the Italian footballing authorities. However, allegations of racism against Ibrahimovic were dismissed.

  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic Hakan Calhanoglu AC Milan 2020

    From friends to foes

    Ibrahimovic and former Milan attacking midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu used to be good friends. But then the Turkey international joined Inter on a free transfer during the summer of 2021...

    "We must thank him for what he gave to Milan and wish him the best for the future. It sounds terrible to say, but Calha has taken advantage of a tragic situation.

    "[Former] Inter star [Christian] Eriksen collapsed on the floor during Denmark versus Finland due to a heart attack, so Inter needed a player in that position and signed Hakan.

    "Before that incident, he hadn’t received any offer from Inter or any other team."

  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic Marco Materazzi AC Milan Inter 2010

    Revenge against Materazzi

    It wasn't the first time Ibrahimovic had clash with a former Inter team-mate.

    Last year he opened up on his feuds with Marco Materazzi, which he explained dated back to a foul the defender had committed on him during his time at Juventus.

    "He came in from behind to hurt me. Footballers know immediately when a tackle is to hurt you, simply a strong tackle, like Chiellini, like Stam, like Maldini.

    "With Materazzi, I had a score to settle for years. I paid him back in a derby (in 2010). He came in with his feet raised, I jumped, avoided it, and I struck him with an elbow to the temple.

    "Pippo Inzaghi commented: 'The most beautiful derby of my life: 1-0, an Ibra goal, and Materazzi in hospital.'

    "Obviously, he was joking..."

  • Lebron James LA Lakers

    No politics

    LeBron James has never been afraid to speak his mind, particularly when it comes to important social issues such as inequality and racism. Ibrahimovic, though, believes that sports stars have no business entering the world of politics and caused uproar by offering the basketball legend some advice.

    "Do what you're good at. Do the category that you do. I play football because I'm the best at playing football, I'm no politician. If I'd been a politician, I would be doing politics.

    "This is the first mistake famous people do when they become famous and come into a certain status. For me it is better to avoid certain topics and do what you're best at doing, because otherwise it doesn't look good."

  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic AC Milan 2021-22

    Still the best...

    Ibrahimovic's contract extension shouldn't come as a surprise. In 2021, he was asked why he hadn't already retired.

    "The reality is I'll play until I see that someone is better than me, so I'm still playing."

  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic AC Milan 2021-22

    Ibrahimovic the coach?

    So, what of the future? We know that Ibrahimovic is going to play on for another year. But after that, could he enter the world of coaching?

    "Impossible. Because during the match I’d slap at least two players and, after the match, eight!"

  • Zlatan-Milan

    Fresh Guardiola jibe

    Ibrahimovic couldn't resist aiming a fresh dig at Guardiola in his latest autobiography, titled "Adrenaline: My Untold Stories".

    “The ‘Philosopher’ prefers players who obey without talking back."