From the "heat" of the Premier League, how his critics doubted him in England, and how younger players have it easier, Zlatan Ibrahimovic opens up with Thierry Henry.
Speaking ahead of the Super Sunday clash against Liverpool, live on Sky Sports 1, the 35-year-old touched upon a range of subjects, including the rivalry between the two clubs, United's chances of success this season, and how he prefers the quiet, hard-working life.
Read all of Ibrahimovic's revealing interview with Henry below...
THIERRY: So, Zlatan. You’ve been in the league for a little while now, and you’ve played in some of the best leagues in the world. What would you say is the biggest difference between England and the other leagues?
ZLATAN: I think the pace, the rhythms of the game is high, very high. I knew before I came, and some of the players I’ve played with have talked about it, they say the same. If you cannot handle that, or adapt to that, you will struggle, even if you are a world-class player or the best technical player, you need to handle that pace.
When you can handle that, understand the game, you will make it easy for yourself. I like the atmosphere, all the stadiums, and the heat during the games, nice pitches, it’s pumped up I’d say. It’s nice, I’m enjoying it and hopefully I can give something back through my football.
THIERRY: You’ve played in a lot of great cities, how are you enjoying life in Manchester?
ZLATAN: It’s good, I have what I need. The family is happy, we have everything we need, and it depends what you want to do from it. I am very simple, I need my training, I need my family to be happy, because if they’re happy I can focus on my main thing, and that’s the football.
The city? It’s good. I have what I need. I’m simple. I’m, not the one who goes out to look at the historical parts of the city, the philosophy of the city. I think many people are disappointed that I’m like that, because they were expecting more crazy things to happen around me! More paparazzi things! I think they are a little bit disappointed at that, but that’s who I am, I am simple, I am a family guy.
THIERRY: So why Manchester? Why the Premier League now? I’m sure you had the opportunity before, but why now?
ZLATAN: Because after many years of talks like: ‘He can never make it in the Premier, he can never make it there’, I had my little adventure going around different countries, and when they felt it was most difficult for me, I chose to come.
Let’s say a person in my position would take the easiest way, go abroad, make money in China, or the other side and settle down with the career he had, I choose not. I took the challenge, accept the challenge, and that’s what I chose. That’s why I chose United also, in a situation where they struggled for the last four or five years, and if I can finish the task to bring them to the top, I will be more than happy.
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I don’t like the easy task, the easy job, the easy objectives, I always had it hard whenever I went. I needed to do much more than the other ones, and that’s how I see it here, at the age of 35, people said it would be impossible but I am doing what I am able to do.
This is something I have been doing for the past 15 years, this is nothing new for me, the only new is the colour of the shirt, the new country and new competition. I keep doing my things, that is what people don’t understand, but I make them understand.
THIERRY: I knew that. You mentioned something before about the way you live. I am all the time defending you, because people talk about what you say, what you do, I say: ‘Guys, the guy is a professional, he’s never late, he works hard, he’s a family guy, doesn’t drink, doesn’t party.’ To be able to play at your age and still perform, it’s amazing. I wanted you to explain to people who is the real Zlatan?
ZLATAN: I am the one and only, no?! No, I am working hard, I like the hard work, I am very happy that I am from the old generation, the hard-working generation. I believe the new generation, let’s say it’s a bit easier for them, because they get explored in the media in a different way, much bigger, much faster than when I popped up in the football world.
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I met team-mates, played with different teams, and they worked hard to get what they got and achieve. I don’t want to say it’s totally different, but I don’t see the same hard-working thing today when I see the new generation, because like you say, when I come I like to work hard, and when I work hard I am satisfied. I know I am doing something good, but for myself, not for somebody else to say: ‘Oh Ibra you are working hard'. I am happy that I have met team-mates, great team-mates, also happy and lucky, I learn from them, I saw them and am just repeating those things.
Best of all I am enjoying football and I want to enjoy it as long as possible. But people expect the negative things, because I think that sells more. They’re not looking at the other side of the coin, where you work hard and sacrifice, do the professional, because that’s too clean, they want the dirty thing.
I have no problem because I went through this my whole career, this is something that triggers me, gives me energy, people talking about me, saying: ‘You’re dead, you’re this, that’, ex-players talking, and I don’t even remember them when they were playing. But one thing for sure is they will remember me for the rest of their lives.
THIERRY: Why do you think the team are so good at the moment? Apart from your goals!
We got the new coach, we got four new players, some players left, the situation was new. The team hadn’t been on top for the last four or five years, that is something you cannot change in 24 hours.
It’s a process, you work it in, you follow the coach, start to believe in it and you try to make it as good as possible.
You need to settle in and find the basic, and when you find the basic you go from there. He’s here to win, and he is a winner, I’m here to win and I want to make the team win. It takes time.
THIERRY: You played in the biggest rivalries in the world. Ajax against Feyenoord, Juve against Milan and Inter, PSG against Marseille, too many teams. Man Utd v Liverpool, how big is that game?
ZLATAN: I’m looking forward. These games are the games you want to play in, be on that stage and just to enjoy the moment. Let’s enjoy the game, but most of all, let’s win the game. If we can then we can start to battle with the top four, even after losing many points where we shouldn’t have lost. But the gap is smaller now, and if we can get that win from the top four, we are there.
I need to understand the philosophies of the clubs, the games that have been before. You get experience from that, and you start to understand.
When you see your team-mates, and the happiness is different from a normal game, even the kit guys, the supporters, when you see them, the reaction of them, you start to understand this is something different.
THIERRY: Do you think you can win the league this year?
ZLATAN: The league is unpredictable. You don’t have a team you can say will stay there and win it. Chelsea have been doing fantastic, they play once a week, they have a lot of condition, and a lot of power each time they play, but they were having trouble in the beginning and it clicked.
If we can come up there and disturb them, every team has their moment of dip in the competition. We had ours – winning, losing, winning, losing – and now we are winning. Hopefully we can continue like that, and we are waiting for others to do a mistake. Sunday is an opportunity to steal points from the top four.
THIERRY: Pep or Jose?
ZLATAN: Two great coaches, two different people, I had the possibility to work with both, I won with both, but one stimulates me more than the other.