The forward was even challenged by a promotion fighter.
AC Milan won the Italian football championship for the first time since 2011. Both then and now Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the 40-year-old long-serving striker who is still playing at a high level, played for the club.
Zlatan scored eight goals during the season and proved that even in his fifth decade he is useful. Ibrahimovic’s unconventional training and martial arts have helped him stay in form, influencing not only his body but also his style of play.
Ibrahimovic was trained in taekwondo as a youngster: the tragedy of his boxer uncle and the fights of Mohammed Ali had an impact. Zlatan is a black belt and uses his skills on the pitch
Ibrahimović has an unusual style of play: he is tall and athletic but also has good body control and often uses stretching to strike. Ibrahimović has no problem lifting his leg at defenders’ eye level or scoring with a header. These moves and punches were influenced by Zlatan’s taekwondo training, which he devoted more than 7 years to in his youth.
Ibrahimovic trained in taekwondo in Malmö and in November 2010 even achieved a black belt. But that does not mean that Zlatan was a top fighter – he was not a hard worker in his youth, although he did have ability. The Swede was just a star in 2010, playing for AC Milan, and he received his belt for popularizing taekwondo – from 2008 Olympic silver medallist Mauro Sarmiento.
As a child, Zlatan was seriously interested in martial arts and looked up to Bruce Lee and Mohamed Ali, not footballers. “What a legend Ali was! He did what he thought was right regardless of people’s opinions. He never apologised, and that’s something I’ve always remembered. And I decided that was mine. He was really cool,” Ibrahimovic said later.
Zlatan’s passion for martial arts was influenced by his father. He showed his son boxing fights since childhood and told him about his uncle Sapko, who was a boxer and could become a great athlete.
“Back in the former Yugoslavia, my father had an older brother. His full name was Sabahudin, but everyone called him Sapko. Sabahudin was a boxer, a real talent. He played for the boxing club “Radnicki” from Kragujevac, became Yugoslavian champion and was called to the national team. But in 1967, when he was just 23, Sabahudin drowned in Neretva River. The currents there were treacherous, and apparently he had heart or lung problems. The current pulled him into the depths and he drowned.
After that tragic incident, my father became a real boxing and martial arts fanatic. He collected video recordings of fights not only featuring the late Sabahudin, but also the greats Ali, Foreman and Tyson. In addition, these old tapes had all the tricks of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan,” Ibrahimovic recalled.
Skills from martial arts came in handy for Zlatan on the football field. In taekwondo, most strokes are kicking, but the preference is for spectacular kicks which require good stretching. This martial art helps you to master your body and develop the coordination that has created the recognisable Zlatan style.
Despite his size for football (Zlatan is 195 cm tall), the forward is very malleable. Ibrahimović often delivers strikes that are reminiscent of one-upmanship kicks – he shoots over himself, scores with his heel from the turn and reaches for balls in unthinkable situations.
Ibrahimovic loves the UFC: compares himself to Conor, chats with Khabib and thinks he could be an MMA star instead of football
Zlatan follows MMA: he knows UFC fighters and supports many of them personally. Before Chimaev’s fight with Burns, Ibrahimovic posted on the social network a meme with a wolf and Hamzat, signing: “The wolf is weaker than a lion and a tiger, but he does not perform in a circus. Such support from the top footballer is simple to explain: Chimaev is a Swedish citizen, and his nickname “Borz” translates from Chechen as “wolf”.
Ibrahimovic himself trains his striking technique in the gym. And he even says, that instead of football he might well prove himself in MMA:
“My father always wanted me to become a lawyer, but I never saw myself in that role. I see myself as a great UFC fighter. Oh, sorry, a great UFC fan. But I still think I could do well in mixed martial arts.
And when Conor was at his peak in the UFC, Zlatan compared the Irishman to himself. Although McGregor later snapped back, saying that it was Ibrahimovic who was copying him in football.
“McGregor has my temperament! He’s just as confident in his abilities. Conor is capable of knocking out his opponent by hitting him from any angle. I can admit that I am a long-time mixed martial arts fan. McGregor is Ibrahimovic in the MMA world and I am McGregor in football,” said Ibrahimovic.
But in Conor’s fight with Khabib, Zlatan was betting on the Dagestani – predicting that the fight would bring the champion victory. Ibrahimovic had a good chat with Khabib and then even sent him a motivational voicemail before the fight with Gagee.
“I think Khabib will beat Conor. If Nurmagomedov catches McGregor in a clinch, he won’t let go anymore. Khabib always looks calm on the outside, but he is very dangerous, he simply leaves no chance for his opponents. I remember, Fedor Emelianenko was like that, he was also calm and cool, but in the fight he did unbelievable things”, – said Ibrahimovich.
On social media, Zlatan often publishes his crazy workouts, which allow him to stay in shape even at the age of 40. The footballer hits the bag and shows off his taekwondo skills. Zlatan remembers combinations of kicks, and Khabib, seeing such skills of a footballer, even joked and wrote: “Send me a seat”. The fighter said this phrase to Conor during their conflict and it became a meme.
UFC fighter Danny Roberts, on the other hand, was more serious about Khabib – and offered Zlatan a fight: “If Ibrahimovic is ready to fight, I’m waiting for him. I would like to see what he has. For the sake of that, I’m even willing to put on weight, any time.”
The fight didn’t happen, and Ibrahimovic has continued to use his taekwondo skills on the field. And it is paying off: now Zlatan is one of the main long-livers in football, who even at 40 manages to play for the champion team and score.