The Curious Case of the Ever-Vandalised Zlatan Ibrahimovic Statue
Without wishing to go in hard with an exhaustive history of Swedish iconoclasm, holy artefacts have had a comparatively good time of it in that Scandinavian nation. Not too many wars on home soil has helped, as did the fact the Lutheran reformation wasn’t systematically iconoclastic in Sweden. Nothing lasts forever, alas – which brings us to the statue of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a monument which cannot at present last more than a few days without being vandalised.
Located outside the Malmö FF stadium, in the town where Zlatan grew up, this reverential three-metre erection has been in situ since October last year. Alas, it was taken down from its plinth on Sunday after its latest run-in with sectarian despoilers. I say taken down – but in fact, the statue was already supine, having been sawn off at the ankles, and daubed with the instruction “take away”. And those are just the most recent abuses visited upon its 500 kilograms of bronze. These have included unsolicited rhinoplasty, the use of fireworks, silver paint, white paint, graffiti, the removal of a single toe (very Big Lebowski) and the amputation of one leg below the knee. I imagine Rafael van der Vaart sent flowers.
All told, the “Vandalism” section of the Zlatan statue’s dedicated Wikipedia entry is fast becoming one of my favourite sporting subheadings. One day it may even rival the “Personal Life” section of Nick Faldo’s entry. (Enjoy – though I will just take this opportunity to pass on his second wife’s deathless quote: “Socially, he was a 24-handicapper.”)
Is the latest horror tackle likely to be career-ending for the Ibrahimovic statue? That remains unclear. Officially, it is in for repairs, though at this rate of degeneration it is difficult to see how it can keep realistically rising again. Perhaps they could do something for it at one of the Italian clubs, with their special gyms and so on.
Needless to say, meanwhile, desecration of statues happens in contemporary societies for a variety of reasons. News cuttings for the very day on which the Zlatan statue was removed reveal that a Gandhi statue in Gujarat was also vandalised. Though the Indian independence leader is widely accepted to be a less significant cultural figure than the current Milan striker, I am sure Zlatan would take comfort from the fact that this sort of impudence is also happening lower down the international statuary leagues.
As for the trigger of the Ibrahimovic statue’s ongoing woes, it seems to go beyond matters of mere style and taste. After all, the Zlatan rendition is relatively lifelike and aesthetically inoffensive compared with many notable modern football statues, which aim to make even the heavily disguised waxworks of Madame Tussauds look like those they are apparently supposed to resemble. Players insulted in bronze of late include Cristiano Ronaldo, of whom a comically misshapen image was unveiled at Madeira airport, and Mo Salah, who has for some reason been immortalised as a sort of homunculus Art Garfunkel in his hometown.
Given that Zlatan is presented as arrogantly shirtless in his statue, you could really only fault the medium for its inability to replicate the subject’s body art. You can’t do tattoos in bronze. (Even so, let’s take a moment to agree that the “Only God Can Judge Me” tattoo – sported by Zlatan and countless other true originals – is one of the absolute cast-iron signs you’re in the presence of a certain type. On the off-chance there is a heaven, I imagine it would contain a vast daily queue of people waiting for God to judge their Only God Can Judge Me tattoos. The Almighty’s verdict would be communicated by a bored angel, going: “Cliched, lame, and only acceptable on Tupac. Otherwise, one of the leading international signs of the shit. Could the next tattooee step forward to the celestial throne, please!”)
No, in terms of motive, the Zlatan tale is thought to fall strictly into the damnatio memoriae – condemnation of memory – category, which saw statues of Lenin and so on purged across former Soviet territories. Zlatan’s offence has been to buy a large stake in Malmö’s rivals, Hammarby, and promise to make them “the best in Scandinavia”.
That said, I am extremely open to other theories. One of mine is that the Zlatan statue is involved in some kind of modern realisation of the Oscar Wilde story The Happy Prince. Did you ever read this one? Basically there’s a statue of a prince in a poor town, and the prince can’t bear to see the suffering, so with the help of a swallow, he sacrifices bits of himself – a sapphire eye, some surface gilding, and so on – to alleviate poverty. So this, but with a footballer’s bronze nose, toe, and lower leg. Is Malmö being regenerated via these valuable Zlatan relics? We daren’t rule it out.
Speaking of ruling things out, perhaps all this has the distinct air of a dark Scandi crime drama. It’s not just that celebrated show The Bridge is set partly in Malmö – more that there have now been a series of grotesque attacks, which presumably someone will have to solve. A review of the evidence sparks my own hunch. Broken legs, broken noses, a little serial ultraviolence – is the villain’s MO not redolent of a man whose own arsenal of threats and injurings was famously vast and baroque? Think about it. Who, in all honesty, could inflict this amount of damage on the Zlatan statue other than … Zlatan Ibrahimovic himself? Far be it from me to give pointers to the Malmö police department – but could there yet be the ultimate twist in this tale?
The Guardian Sport