Zlatan Juggles Gum!?
He does, and quite well as it turns out (cut to 2:30 if you’re pressed for time). The Nike spot, one of the excellent Joga Bonito series for the 2006 World Cup, features the Swedish footballer as the object of fierce public speculation concerning his ability to juggle the masticatory morsel.* It turns out this isn’t very challenging for the world’s best players, but the tone of the ad, “holy crap, Zlatan did what?!” captures everything I love about him.**
To misappropriate the words of Bruce Arena (he was describing Clint Dempsey, not Ibrahimovic), Zlatan tries shit. And that doesn’t really do him justice. Zlatan doesn’t just try shit. He does shit. He does the outrageous, the improbable, the impossible. The things he does most players wouldn’t even dream of trying. His arrogance in trying things is breathtaking, but it is exceeded by the immense scale of what he manages to pull off.*** A word you often see used to describe things like an unexpected chip, a beautifully executed lob, or anything else surprisingly bold, is impudent. Nothing Zlatan does is impudent. Impudent suggests impishness, a bit of, “let’s see if this will work.” Zlatan doesn’t “see if this will work”; Zlatan never has any doubt.
Look at the goal he scores at 1:09 of the highlight reel linked to above (it’s the one he scored last week vs. Anderlecht and the one that prompted this post). He’s somewhere between 25 and 30 yards from goal, and the ball is bouncing. He has no business shooting from there. Nobody does. And yet…do you think there was ever any doubt in his mind about where that ball would end up?
To have the brass ones to attempt what he does in that compilation, with the regularity he does; whatever his percentage success rate may be on ridiculously audacious goal attempts, I assume it’s less than 50%, and yet Ibrahimovic still must be more surprised when they don’t come off, than when they do. Which makes it impossible not to wonder about his state of mind. What must it be like to wake up each morning with the supreme confidence, backed by substantial video evidence, that you are one of the best in the world at what you do, and that almost everything you try will succeed? One imagines it must underwrite a fairly satisfying existence (caveats about money and success not buying happiness notwithstanding); at the very least it’s underwritten an astonishing career.
*I promise I’m not trying to go all Euro-snob by using footballer; I just like the sound of it more than soccer player
**I had not read this Bleacher Report post at the time of writing, but it’s basically the same idea
***This arrogance apparently translates off the pitch, too. Or at least in his public persona off the pitch. A search of Zlatan + Arrogance yields 125k results