Zlatan's retirement marks 'end of an era' in hometown

AFP , Monday 5 Jun 2023

A local hero and inspiration or a divisive figure who turned his back on his hometown? Either way Zlatan Ibrahimovic's retirement from football, just like his career, leave few in his native Malmo unmoved.

AC Milan s Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic acknowledges the public during a farewell ceremony following the Italian Serie A football match between AC Milan and Hellas Verona on June 4, 2023 at the San Siro stadium in Milan. AFP


"It's very sad that he's retiring. It's an end of an era," 18-year-old Mohammad Salem told AFP in front the Eleda stadium, home to local team Malmo FF, where "Ibra" started his professional career in 1999.

A steady stream of tributes have poured in after the 41-year-old football star announced late Sunday that he was retiring from the sport.

Janne Andersson, coach of the country's national squad, dubbed him "Sweden's greatest player of all time".

"The athlete and sportsman Zlatan is something out of the ordinary, a unique footballer and I am grateful that he chose to return to the national squad as he did in 2021," Andersson said in a statement.

 Sweden's forward and team captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates after scoring during the friendly football match between Sweden and Estonia at Friends Arena in Solna, near Stockholm on September 4, 2014. AFP 

Role model

In a post to social media, Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson called the striker a "Zwedish pride."

"Thank you Zlatan! Godbye," Kristersson said, referencing the sign displayed at AC Milan's final game of the season on Sunday, where Ibrahimovic announced he was hanging up his football shoes.

"I followed Zlatan through his career and of course he meant a lot to me and my kids. He's a big star and a big role model for the children, so we're going to miss him now when he's retiring, of course," Malmo resident and council worker Johan Lund, 38, told AFP.

While Malmo residents queried by AFP expressed much reverence for the iconic footballer, they were also quick to note that his image had been tarnished.

His supporters long felt the iconic footballer could do no wrong, but many felt betrayed by Ibrahimovic's late 2019 decision to invest in Stockholm club Hammarby IF, a rival club playing in the same league as Malmo FF.

A bronze statue erected outside the Malmo FF stadium, was defaced and vandalised multiple times, and even tipped over, leading the city to take it into to storage for repairs where it has remained awaiting the city's decision for a new location.

Foul play: The statue of Ibrahimovic outside Malmo FF stadium after it was destroyed. AFP 

The son of a Bosnian and a Croatian, Ibrahimovic, grew up in Rosengard, a tough working-class neighbourhood of Malmo with a high immigrant population.

Hate and love

Rosengard is where he kicked his first football, surrounded by decaying concrete buildings. It was also the place where his legend was first forged.

Over a tunnel, a few hundred metres from the house he grew up in, one of his quotes has been put up: "You can take a guy out of Rosengard. But you can't take Rosengard out of the guy."

But following the Hammarby investment an addition to the quote was added in spray paint: "But the guy can buy his way out."

For Lund, feelings towards Zlatan in Malmo are a "mix of hate and love."

"Of course, most of the people love him, but there's always going to be haters and I think Zlatan had a good way to take care of the haters through all of his career," Lund said.

AC Milan players, all wearing a jersey flocked with Ibrahimovic's name, form a guard of honour for AC Milan's Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic (C) during a farewell ceremony following the Italian Serie A football match between AC Milan and Hellas Verona on June 4, 2023 at the San Siro stadium in Milan. AFP 

In a hint that some bitterness remained, the football club Malmo FF marked the occasion with a comparatively subdued statement on Twitter.

"A long and successful career started in Malmo and ended in Milan. Good luck in life outside football," the club tweeted, with CEO Niclas Carlnen telling news agency TT that no other celebrations were planned at this stage.

"The hardcore Malmo FF fans won't probably forgive him, but, like, in my heart he's always the Malmo boy, so it's no problem for me," 22-year-old Anton Kallholm said.

Salem, who works at the Malmo FF stadium, agreed Zlatan had angered many of his fans, but said he was still very popular "because he has done so, so much for this team".

"I still love him because he's a good player," Salem said.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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