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Fans torn over Zlatan’s return to Malmö

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.

Fans torn over Zlatan's return to Malmö
Zlatan Ibrahimovic at a previous match between PSG and Malmö FF. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

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.

SHOOTINGS

US criminologist lauds Malmö for anti-gang success

The US criminologist behind the anti-gang strategy designed to reduce the number of shootings and explosions in Malmö has credited the city and its police for the "utterly pragmatic, very professional, very focused" way they have put his ideas into practice.

US criminologist lauds Malmö for anti-gang success
Johan Nilsson/TT

In an online seminar with Malmö mayor Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh, David Kennedy, a professor at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said implementing his Group Violence Intervention (GVI) strategy had gone extremely smoothly in the city.

“What really stands out about the Malmö experience is contrary to most of the places we work,” he said. “They made their own assessment of their situation on the ground, they looked at the intervention logic, they decided it made sense, and then, in a very rapid, focused and business-like fashion, they figured out how to do the work.”

He said that this contrasted with police and other authorities in most cities who attempt to implement the strategy, who tend to end up “dragging their feet”, “having huge amounts of political infighting”, and coming up with reasons why their city is too different from other cities where the strategy has been a success.

Malmö’s Sluta Skjut (Stop Shooting) pilot scheme was extended to a three-year programme this January, after its launch in 2018 coincided with a reduction in the number of shootings and explosions in the city.

“We think it’s a good medicine for Malmö for breaking the negative trend that we had,” Malmö police chief Stefan Sintéus said, pointing to the fall from 65 shootings in 2017 to 20 in 2020, and in explosions from 62 in 2017 to 17 in 2020.

A graph from Malmö police showing the reduction in the number of shootings from 2017 to 2020. Graph: Malmö Police
A graph from Malmö police showing the reduction in the number of explosions in the city between 2017 and 2020. Graph: Malmö Police

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In their second evaluation of the programme, published last month, Anna-Karin Ivert, Caroline Mellgren, and Karin Svanberg, three criminologists from Malmö University, reported that violent crime had declined significantly since the program came into force, and said that it was possible that the Sluta Skjut program was partly responsible, although it was difficult to judge exactly to what extent. 

The number of shootings had already started to decline before the scheme was launched, and in November 2019, Sweden’s national police launched Operation Rimfrost, a six-month crackdown on gang crime, which saw Malmö police reinforced by officers from across Sweden.

But Kennedy said he had “very little sympathy” for criminologists critical of the police’s decision to launch such a massive operation at the same time as Sluta Skjut, making it near impossible to evaluate the programme.

“Evaluation is there to improve public policy, public policy is not there to provide the basis for for sophisticated evaluation methodology,” he argued.

“When people with jobs to do, feel that they need to do things in the name of public safety, they should follow their professional, legal and moral judgement. Not doing something to save lives, because it’s going to create evaluation issues, I think, is simply privileging social science in a way that it doesn’t deserve.”

US criminologist David Kennedy partaking in the meeting. Photo: Richard Orange

Sluta Skjut has been based around so-called ‘call-ins’, in which known gang members on probation are asked to attend meetings, where law enforcement officials warn them that if shootings and explosions continue, they and the groups around them will be subject to intense focus from police.

At the same time, social workers and other actors in civil society offer help in leaving gang life.

Of the 250-300 young men who have been involved in the project, about 40 have been sent to prison, while 49 have joined Malmö’s ‘defector’ programme, which helps individuals leave gangs.

Kennedy warned not to focus too much on the number of those involved in the scheme who start to work with social services on leaving gang life.

“What we find in in practice is that most of the impact of this approach doesn’t come either because people go to prison or because they take services and leave gang life,” he said.

“Most of the impact comes from people simply putting their guns down and no longer being violent.”

“We think of the options as continuing to be extremely dangerous, or completely turning one’s life around. That’s not realistic in practice. Most of us don’t change that dramatically ever in our lives.”

He stressed the importance of informal social control in his method, reaching those who gang members love and respect, and encouraging them to put pressure on gang members to abstain from gun violence.

“We all care more about our mothers than we care about the police, and it turns out that if you can find the guy that this very high risk, very dangerous person respects – literally, you know, little old ladies will go up to him and get his attention and tell him to behave himself. And he will.”

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