MALMÖ, SWEDEN (AFP) – In Malmo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s hometown, his supporters felt the iconic footballer could do no wrong, but his decision to invest in a rival club was an unforgivable sin to many.
Since announcing a month ago that he was buying a stake in the football club Hammarby IF, based in Sweden’s capital Stockholm, Ibrahimovic’s bronze statue in Malmo has been regularly vandalised.
It was only unveiled in October, in the presence of thousands of fans, outside the stadium of Malmo FF – the southern Swedish team where Ibrahimovic made his professional debut in 1999 and a rival of Hammarby.
A rope was placed around the statue’s neck and the word ‘Judas’ daubed across the front door of his residence in Stockholm.
“He’s lost to Malmo, the relationship is over,” Vice President of the Malmo FF supporter club Kaveh Hosseinpour told AFP.
The star himself has yet to truly address the controversy, only saying that he “didn’t see it”, when asked by celebrity news outlet TMZ.
The son of a Bosnian and a Croatian, Ibrahimovic, 38, grew up in Rosengard, a tough working class neighbourhood of Malmo with a high immigrant population.
Rosengard is where he kicked his first football, surrounded by decaying concrete buildings. It was also the place where his legend was first forged.
“Not a day goes by without a young man telling me he’s the new Zlatan,” said Ivan Milosevic, who played alongside Ibrahimovic as a child at FBK Balkan, where he is now president.
Ibrahimovic turned out for many of Europe’s top teams, such as Amsterdam’s Ajax, AC Milan, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United, before he signed for US team LA Galaxy in 2018.
As one of the best players of his generation, the footballer can be considered “a national public good” in Sweden, according to Johanna Franden, a sports writer with daily newspaper Aftonbladet.
Among young people with immigrant backgrounds, Ibrahimovic has become even more of a symbol, as his cocky attitude, individualism and zealous ambition stand in stark contrast to cardinal values of humility and modesty still apparent in the traditionally Lutheran country.
With 116 games for Sweden and 62 goals, Ibrahimovic is the all-time leading scorer for the national team.