In his book, ‘I am Zlatan’, Ibrahimovic explains how a reunion with the Portuguese boss led to the collapse of his relationship with the Catalan during his Barcelona days.
I still don’t know what [Guardiola’s] problem was. Or, well… I don’t think the guy can handle strong personalities. He wants nice school boys. And worse: he runs away from his problems. He can’t look them in the eye and that makes everything so much worse.
So, it got worse [at Barcelona] when the ash cloud from the volcano on Iceland came. No flights at all in Europe and we were going to San Siro to face Inter. We took the bus. Some brain-dead person at Barca thought that was a good idea. I was free from injuries then. But the trip became a disaster. It took 16 hours and we were all worn out when we arrived in Milan. It was our most important game so far that season, the semi-final of the Champions League, and I was prepared for mayhem, booing and whistling at my old arena. But that was no problem; that drives me. But the situation apart from that was terrible. And I think Guardiola had a hang up on Mourinho.
Jose Mourinho is a big star. He had won the Champions League already with Porto. He was my coach at Inter. He’s cool. The first time he met Helena he whispered to her: “Helena, you only have one mission. Feed Zlatan, let him sleep, keep him happy!” The guy says what he wants. I like him. He’s the leader of an army. But he also cares. He was sending me text messages all the time in Inter asking how I was feeling. He’s the opposite of Guardiola. If Mourinho lights up a room, Guardiola pulls the blinds. I guess Guardiola was now trying to measure up to him.
“It’s not Mourinho we are facing – it’s Inter,” he said, like we thought we’d play ball with the coach. And then he pulled his philosophy crap. I was barely listening. Why would I? It was advanced crap about blood, sweat and tears; sh*t like that. I’ve never heard a coach talk like that. Pure garbage. But now he finally came up to me. It was during the practice at San Siro and people were there watching, like, “Wow! Ibra is back!”
“Can you play from the start?” Guardiola asked.
“Definitely,” I answered.
“But are you prepared?”
“Definitely. I feel fine.”
“But are you ready?”
He was like a parrot and I got some nasty vibes.
“Listen, it was a terrible trip, but I’m in good form. The injury is gone. I’ll give it my all.”
Guardiola looked as though he doubted me… But I got to play from the start and we went 1-0 up. Then the game turned. I was substituted after 60 minutes and we lost 3-1. It was s***. I was furious. But, in the earlier days, like at Ajax, I could dwell on a loss for days or even weeks. Now I have Helena and the kids. They help me forget and move on. And I was focusing on the return game at Camp Nou. The return game was incredibly important and the excitement was building up, day by day.
The pressure was incredible. It was like thunder in the air and we had to win big to advance. But then, I don’t even want to think about it, or, well, I do. It made me stronger. We won 1-0. But that wasn’t enough. We were eliminated from the Champions League and afterwards Guardiola looked at me like it was my fault.
I felt like sh*t sitting in the dressing room and Guardiola was staring at me like I was a problem, some freak. It was insane. He was a wall, a stone wall. I didn’t get a single sign of life from him and I wanted to get far away every second. I was no longer part of the team and when we played Villarreal, he let me play five minutes. Five minutes! I was boiling inside, not because I was on the bench, as I can deal with that if the coach is man enough to say, “You’re not good enough, Zlatan.”
But Guardiola didn’t say a single word, nothing, and at this point, I’d had it. I could feel it in my entire body, and if I was Guardiola, I would have been scared. Not that I’m a fighter. I’ve done all kinds of crazy s***. But I don’t fight, well, on the pitch I’ve knocked one or two out. But still, when I get angry, my eyes turn black. You don’t want to be anywhere near me. And let me tell you in detail what happened.
After the game I went into the dressing room. I hadn’t exactly planned some raging attack. But I wasn’t happy, to use mild words, and in the dressing room my enemy stood, scratching his bald head. Yaya Toure and a few others were there. I was staring at the big metal box where we put our clothes. Then I kicked it. I think it flew three metres. But I wasn’t done yet. Far from it. I yelled: “You have no balls!” And probably some worse things. Then, I added: “You sh*t yourself in front of Mourinho. You can go f**k yourself!”
I went insane and maybe you’d expect Guardiola to say something, maybe, “Calm down, you don’t talk to your coach like that.” But he’s not like that. He’s a weak coward. He just picked up the box, like a little cleaner, and then he left and never talked about it again. Nothing at all. But, of course, word spread.
In the bus, everyone was going crazy: “What happened?! What happened?!” Nothing, I thought. Just a few words of truth. But I didn’t have the energy talking about it. I was so pissed off. My coach had frozen me out week after week without explaining why. It was sick. I’ve had some bad fights before but the day after we’d always sorted things out and moved on. Now the silence and terror just continued and I thought, “I’m 28 years old. I’ve scored 22 goals and 15 assists here at Barca, and still I’m treated like I don’t exist, like air. Should I accept this? Should I continue adapting? No way!”
When I understood I’d be on the bench against Almeria, I remembered the words from one of my first meetings with Guardiola: “Here, in Barca, we don’t drive Ferrari or Porsche to practice.” What bullsh*t was that anyway? I drive what I want, at least if it p*sses off some idiot. I jumped into my Enzo, floored it and parked outside the door at training. Of course, it resulted in a circus. The papers wrote that my car cost as much as the monthly salary for the entire Almeria squad. But I didn’t care. Media bulls**t meant nothing at this point. I had decided to give back.
I realised it more and more, there was no turning back. It was time to stand up for myself and become the real me again. Because don’t forget: You can take the kid out of the ghetto, but you can’t take the ghetto out of>