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Fans torn over Zlatan's return to Malmö

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Fans torn over Zlatan's return to Malmö
Zlatan Ibrahimovic at a previous match between PSG and Malmö FF. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT
06:59 CET+01:00
As Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic returns to his home town on Wednesday to represent Paris Saint-Germain in their Champions League clash with Malmö FF, some fans are torn over who to support.

The city's prodigal son or the team that launched his career?

On a football pitch in the immigrant-heavy neighbourhood of Rosengård, where the 34-year-old Swede grew up, one of his childhood teammates sighed as he pondered where his sympathies would lie during the Champions League match between Malmö and PSG.

“Both, both. Maybe for Malmö a little bit more,” Ivan Milosevic said, before laughing and adding: “I'm a Malmöitian,” referring to a term for the city's inhabitants.

Born the same year, both players began their careers at FBK Balkan, a local club founded by immigrants from the former Yugoslavia in 1962, which the club say makes them the oldest immigrant football team in Europe.

“He was a funny character, constantly up to a lot of mischief. Nicked bicycles, came with it to practice, always had a ball, bantered with others in the team...,” he said.

“He ran around and didn't listen to the coaches. Did what he liked to do, dribbled when he was meant to pass.”

Almost 15 years after he left Malmö for Ajax, Ibrahimovic's maverick image remains intact as he regularly courts controversy, ranging from his recent claim that he put France “on the world map” to an offer to donate a signed bicycle to female players after the Swedish FA rewarded a male player with a new Volvo.

In the troubled suburbs that dot Malmö's easter half, support has never wavered and on the field his influence is clear.

“He's the big idol here, everyone looks up to him,” said Milosevic.


Zlatan Court, a football court named after Ibrahimovic in Rosengård. Photo: Ola Torkelsson/TT

Ibrahimovic joined Malmö FF in 1994, paving the way for other players from an immigrant background to do the same. It was a remarkable feat, especially for someone who according to his own autobiography would sometimes go to bed hungry.

Greek-born Aneta Moura, a former neighbour, said she remembered him as “maybe a bit mischievous. His mother had to come and get him here and there.”

When he was between eight and 10, he was the “boss” of a group of children whom he would push into the local grocery store to go buy sweets for him, she said.

“Because poor Zlatan didn't have money to go buy (anything)... He wasn't raised quite like the other children. I know that, I could feel that from him,” she said.

But she added: “He was a very alert boy. He's still the same.”

Preparations for Wednesday's game have been under way in Malmö from the moment it was announced that PSG would be coming to town.

“All of Malmö will be able to watch the game. I've booked the main square where the game... will be broadcast live,” Ibrahimovic wrote on Facebook in September.

At the local Rosengård shopping centre, Muhsen Awad, a Swedish-Arabic interpreter who also runs a side business selling football flags and CDs, said he had “tried in every way possible” to get his hands on a ticket for the game without any luck.

They have been on sale for as much as 20,000 kronor ($2,289) on the black market, he claimed, adjusting one of the many blue and white Malmö flags adorning his shop.

“For sure there will be mixed feelings... It will be a historic game where Zlatan comes to play against his 'own', original team,” he said, before predicting that Malmö fans would still remain loyal to their own team.

“All of our region supports Malmö FF no matter who they play against,” he said.

Those comments were echoed by Max Wiman, a columnist for regional daily Sydsvenskan.

Ibrahimovic “has very strong feelings for Malmö”, he said, noting that the PSG star had described playing a Champions League game in the city as “a dream”.

Although he was “fantastically big” there and would probably be cheered before the match, “most people will support Malmö”, he said.

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