Zlatan Ibrahimovic is not only one of the most famous football players in the world but also, definitely, one of the most charismatic and enigmatic ones. Becoming Zlatan is a documentary that retraces his beginnings in the professional world of football, from his debut as a professional in his hometown team of Malmo FF, to his conflict-ridden years in Ajax and culminates with his move to Juventus in 2005, which marked the beginnings of his significant exposure on an international level.
Directors Magnus and Frederik Gertten actually followed him from the very beginning and were the first to interview him as a professional athlete. The footage from his early days playing in the Swedish league was mostly shot by them. But Becoming Zlatan also makes prominent use of archive footage, together with excellent contributions in the form of interview with Ibrahimovic’s former teammates, managers and so on, featuring such big names as Van Der Meyde, Mido and Van Basten to name but a few.
What really drives the film is its coming of age narrative arch. Despite the fact that things, undeniably, worked out for the best for him and he has enjoyed a stellar career and worldwide praise, here we see him overcoming personal struggles, whether it was opposition from his own teammates in Malmo who would criticise him for playing only for himself or his lack of self-confident, relegated to the bench in his debut year at Ajax. His difficult personality and his own personal problems risked turning his career into some type of flash in the pan. Becoming Zlatan is not your typical, conventional and stale biographical documentary. Its structure, entertaining and insightful, is as gripping as a fiction film.
The film is an independent production, meaning that it was not approved by the player’s management. This inevitably makes its tone protective of its subject, and somethings are also not given too much attention, perhaps out of a certain fear of delving too deep within some aspects that Ibrahimovic itself would like to keep hidden. Notably, his difficult relationship with his father is dealt with in blink and you’ll miss it ways, despite it being hinted at as being quite important in his own formation as a human being. This does not mean that the film sways away from studying his human aspect, but rather that it focuses on the way in which Ibrahimovic dealt with his demons on the pitch and in relations to football in general, rather than delving upon matters of his own personal history. This was the safe thing to do, to some extent even the right thing to so, and allows the film to maintain a certain focus while avoiding speculation and gossip.
With the 2016 European Cup finals around the corner, the film’s exposure is aptly timed and should be greeted by some football and sports fans alike. The fact that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is still active and that his move from PSG is imminent, which means he is routinely making the round of sports papers headlines, should also work in its favour.