Wednesday the 23rd of August 2017 isn’t a date I’m going to forget any time soon. I flew to Monti Carlo, Monaco with the soul purpose of interviewing Paul Pogba for ESPN. The trip was already set up to be incredible, a helicopter trip and all access to Paul Pogba, I didn’t think it could any get better. But super agent Mino Riaola had other plans.
Riola was also in Monaco, finalising a deal that would see Zlatan Ibrahimovic re-sign for Manchester Utd. After being injured and seeing his number 9 shirt go to Romelu Lukaku Man Utd fans and football fans alike were concerned about the future of Zlatan’s career. Riaola was not concerned. He had it all perfectly planned out and I didn’t have a clue.
At around 10pm the night before my boss at ESPN comes down to join us at dinner and says the most common words in football media ‘There’s been a change of plan’. We’re all used to this, but I sure as hell was not expecting what was coming next. ‘Zlatan has re-signed for Manchester United, this is completely embargoed no one can utter a word about this but his agent wants us to be the first to interview him, first thing tomorrow, Layla you’re interviewing Zlatan!’
The crew and I were ecstatic. Zlatan is a legend not only for his incredible accomplishments in the game but also for his Herculean personality. This is a man who casually talks about himself in the third person, he refers to himself as a lion “Lions don’t compare themselves to humans” and without a single doubt in his mind believes he is a God – and I believe him too.
It’s an understatement to say I’ve been dying to interview Zlatan since forever. Infact he’s one of just four names I wrote on a list with the dream of making it become reality. And here it is becoming reality when I least expected it.
I’ve always wanted to discover the finer details about Zlatan. How intimidating is he really? How firm is his hand shake? What does he look like in real life? Is he polite to the crew? How much of his persona is an act?
Zlatan encompasses everything. He is kind and warm yet terrifyingly intimidating. He powerfully shook the hand of each crew member and introduced himself casually, ‘Hello I’m Zlatan’, as if people might not already know, whilst towering over us and striding in with the confidence that only a God could exude.
I had some light hearted questions and some that were more testing, due to time constraints we weren’t able to run these questions past his agents so he had no idea what was coming up. In this case agents will generally stop me at a tough one and ask me to move on but I knew Zlatan would glide through them all and after a quick pep talk Riaola stood back.
I wasn’t disturbed during the interview and Zlatan answered every question without looking at his agent once. This is super rare.
His answers were impeccable. Friendly, focused and funny. He did not give the usual over trained media savvy answers we all expect. He was refreshing and incredibly smart.
When talking about losing the number nine shirt Zlatan called it an upgrade and revealed he’d be wearing number 10. Upon being asked whether he considered a move to any other clubs he admitted ‘other clubs did want some Ibra-Kadabra’ and he talked about not losing focus in injury and not allowing himself to get down but working every day.
From the moment he arrived to the end of the interview Zlatan was a hero. He encompassed everything I had imagined and was a perfect gentleman at the same time.
There was one small moment however when I saw a human underneath the God’s tunic, it was the moment he chatted with Paul Pogba. Zlatan clearly hadn’t seen his teammate in a long time and quietly asked, ‘Have you missed me?’ Pogba gave the perfect reply “Of course” he said “There is no party without the Lion” and by those words alone, Zlatan was back.
Watch the full exclusive interview HERE!