Paris Saint-Germain striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one explosive character. At times, one feels that the big Swede exists only to entertain football fans of all predilections with his irresistible combination of off-the-pitch antics, controversial persona and fiery quotes, although he's also been known to score some breath-taking goals.
Over the years, his charge sheet has seen him explain that he doesn’t do trials; the threat to break Rafael van der Vaart's legs at Ajax and the time when he punched Juventus team-mate Jonathan Zebina in the face during training after a "brutal" tackle, are just a couple of examples.
Once such high-profile incident was his highly publicised brawl with his then AC Milan team-mate Oguchi Onyewu, which could have very well lead to the death of one of the players involved.
Ibrahimovic, a black belt in Taekwondo with a penchant for kicking his team-mates, came to blows with the muscular USA international Onyewu after the Swede made a dangerous tackle. It took ten team-mates and coaches to separate the two from throwing punches at each other.
Zlatan wrote extensively about the incident in his autobiography ‘I am Zlatan Ibrahimovic’.
“I joined AC Milan in 2010 and our biggest league match was approaching. The Milan derby against Inter, whose most passionate fans — the Ultras — were going to hate me.”
“On top of that, I had issues with Oguchi Onyewu, a guy in my team. He was an American the size of a house, and I told a mate in the squad: Something serious is gonna happen. I just feel it.”
Zlatan gave an apt description of the ex-Charlton Athletic player with his subsequent remarks, following which he explained the fight in its entirety.
‘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 s**t over the years: ‘F****** 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****** 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: ‘S**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.”
Once things cooled down the players shook hands and it was only later that Ibrahimovic discovered that he had suffered a broken rib. This was definitely not the first time he’s had a dispute with a team-mate, but this was probably the first time he got injured during one.
“Afterwards, the weirdest thing happened. Onyewu started praying to God with tears in his eyes, making the sign of the cross. This felt like a provocation, and I got more furious. I was stopped by my team-mates, and I suppose that was a good thing. It could have turned out nasty. All the time, I was thinking: ‘S***, my chest hurts,’ so we had it checked out. I’d broken a rib in the fight.”
‘It was not the first time I’d had a dispute with a team-mate.’
Rafael van der Vaart had accused his Ajax team-mate Zlatan of purposely injuring him when the duo faced off in 2004 while representing their respective countries. The Dutchman had suffered a torn ankle ligament when Zlatan powered through him and his fellow teammates after receiving the ball at the edge of the penalty area.
The Swedish International had called up the Ajax captain to apologise and set things straight but van der Vaart was in no mood to back down. Coach Ronald Koeman was forced to intervene and, as the three sat in a circle at the Ajax cafeteria, the ex-Real Madrid player immediately said ‘Zlatan did it on purpose.’
The short-tempered Zlatan immediately saw red and retorted, “I didn’t injure you (Rafael van der Vaart) 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.”
The 34-year-old forward has attributed his personality to his Balkan roots and his upbringing in a rough immigrant neighbourhood of Malmo, in southern Sweden. In his book, he also recounts an incident where his friend Mido (team mate at Ajax) flung a pair of scissors at him after the two got embroiled in a game of name-calling.
However, the Swede wasn’t all about fighting with his team-mates. He once dragged Italy international Chiellini by his head because the Swede felt provoked when the Juventus centre-back tackled him from behind.
Numerous such notorious antics from Swede has grabbed headlines over the years but they should never deter the spotlight off Zlatan’s best quality, his amazing goal scoring prowess.