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PLAY THE FIELD

This is Zlatan style!

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Turning out for Ajax, his first of many major clubs, from 2001-04.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic 4, England 2. That was the headline screaming out of the papers midweek. The England fans who made a lame attempt to rile 'His Zlatanness' with the score at 2-1 one hour into the match - chants of 'You're just a s*** Andy Carroll' were ringing in the air - just didn't know what was in store. The 'divine ponytail' went on to score three goals in the final 15 minutes, including an audacious overhead kick from 25 yards into an unguarded net just when a straying Joe Hart thought he had snuffed the challenge.

Shock and awe. A customary yellow was shown after he removed his jersey in glorious delirium and left the travelling band red-faced. That's what you would expect from the showman. Anticipate the unexpected, simplicity is just not his style. "That's the way it is with the English. If you score against them you're a good player, if you don't score against them you're not a good player. I remember Lionel Messi before the 2009 Champions League Final. Then he scored against Manchester United and suddenly he was the best player in the world. Maybe now they'll say something like that about me. " Ibra's opposite number on the night was quick to hail the gangling striker"He is not everyone's cup of tea but he is certainly mine, " said Steven Gerrard later.

The Swede giant first dived into our stream of consciousness during Euro 2004 when with his back to the goal, he famously stretched out his long right leg and flicked the ball over Italy's Gigi Buffon. "Lucky goal", "freak goal", everyone said then. But over the years, the 31-year-old has proved his penchant for the sublimely dramatic. He may not have impressed Pep Guardiola even though he became the first player in Barcelona's history to score in each of his first four league games - probably because of his oversized ego which made him a square peg in the round community hole at Camp Nou - but with Paris Saint-Germain he's got the whole French nation behind him. They've even rid themselves momentarily of their snootiness and made a verb out of him, much in the way the alarmed Americans coined 'Bangalored'.

When this larger-than-life football star signed on the dotted line, heading from Italy to France for an aftertax salary of $11. 5 million to $18 million per year, he knew he was the biggest fish in the Ligue I pond. "I don't know a lot about French players. For sure, they know who I am, " he announced.

When asked how he would rate his Sweden career on a scale of ten by fascinated English journos, 'Ten' was the nonchalant reply.

PSG rolled out the petrodollars to snare Ibra from Serie A, where he had earned a reputation for being a serial kicker - lashing out at his Milan teammates in jest, or cynically burying his studs into Matrco Materazzi's midriff. Just type 'Ibrahimovic' and 'kung fu' in the YouTube search engine and you see the devastating results. There is a clip of the equally insane Antonio Cassano waxing lyrical in front of the cameras only to be paused by a kick to the head by a sniggering Zlatan. "Loco, " Cassano gesticulated to the amused reporter while massaging his temporal lobe.

The French League got a sniff of his nervous energy when a fortnight ago, St. Etienne goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier experienced Zlatan's boots of fury. The PSG monster was duly repaid in red and that got the French talking, and making spoof videos.

French TV show Le Petit Journal depicted a day in the life of Ibra - complete with flattening terrified teammates, doing pushups with his little finger, attacking police officers and autographing people's foreheads. One show plays the Star Wars' Darth Vader theme music whenever Ibrahimovic appears on the screen. Comedy show Les Guignols de l'Info has its own Ibrahimovic puppet - only presidents, politicians and pop stars get this special (ahem!) treatment. In one episode, pistolpacking 'Bond' Daniel Craig meets his match in Tan, Zlatan;in another, a cologne called Eau de Zlatan is marketed by the latex facsimile of the great one: "Made from concentrated Zlatan sweat, If you Zlatan yourself with Eau de Zlatan everyone will respect you. You'll no longer need to queue at the post office. "

www. zlatanfacts. fr, a satirical website, lists his superhuman feats. In the topic 'Zlatan vs Chuck Norris' you have such gems as "One day, Zlatan fought Chuck Norris, and the dinosaurs disappeared. " Others state "The prize for the best goal of the year 2012 has not yet been delivered, but Zlatan has won 2013's", "Lance Armstrong never dared inject himself with blood of Zlatan. His body couldn't have coped with it", "The Eiffel Tower lines up to meet Zlatan. " In the Indian context, substitute Rajnikanth with Zlatan, and you get the 'continental' drift.

Not that the Swedes are far behind in honouring their national symbol - son of a Croatian mother and Bosnian father. After Wednesday night's heroics, newspaper Aftonbladet declared, "He is our present and our future packed into the same tattooed torso, " and Svenska Dagbladet deduced that he was from another planet.
There is a never-dying love for the boy from Malmo. His bestselling autobiography - Jag ar Zlatan Ibrahimovic (I am Zlatan Ibrahimovic) - has been shortlisted for a prestigious literary award in Sweden. Co-authored with Swedish journalist David Lagercrantz, the biography has been named among six titles selected for The August Prize to be awarded on November 26.

Hailed as "a precise narration that leaves a lasting impression", the book highlights "a sensitive and harsh description that takes the reader from the stands to the pitch and into Zlatan's world, " reviewers say. Published in November 2011, Zlatan's story has become one of the all-time Swedish best-sellers, with more than 500, 000 copies sold in Sweden. For the rest of Europe, it helps spill beans on the controlling nature of Pep Guardiola in the Barcelona set-up.

In 1999, Ibra may have arrived at Barcelona with a lot expectation, but it was soon to sour due to his relationship with the mighty Pep Guardiola. At Camp Nou, the omniscient one, for once, was lost for words. Considered an expensive flop after joining Barca from Inter Milan for £40million plus Samuel Eto'o in 2009, he pinned the blame on the successful coach and his successful player. He argued that Lionel Messi changed the system, and Guardiola did not bat an eyelid. "You bought a Ferrari but drive it like a Fiat, " he claimed to have told off the former Barca stalwart, who replied in kind, ignoring him in future training sessions.

Things reportedly came to a head after a 4-1 win at Villarreal in May 2010, a game Ibrahimovic played for just five minutes. "( Pep) was staring at me and I lost it. I thought 'there is my enemy, scratching his bald head'. I yelled to him: 'You have no b*** s!'And probably worse things than that. I threw a box full of training gear across the room, it crashed to the floor and Pep said nothing, just put stuff back in the box. I'm not violent, but if I were Guardiola I would have been frightened. "

One can imagine Zlatan still ranting and raving, blurting out 'Take that, Pep' while swinging his Sweden jersey after his unbelievable stoppage-time goal that stopped time and paralyzed the witnessing crowd. Guardiola, in New York City on a year's sabbatical, may have choked on his evening espresso. Or maybe not.

Zlatan continues to obsess with Pep while the rest continue to obsess with Zlatan. That's the way we like it.

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