Zlatan Ibrahimovic reveals Patrick Vieira was the biggest influence on his career – “he was always on my back, it was never good enough”.
The pair played together at Juventus in the 2005-06 season, before both moving on to Inter after the Calciopoli scandal.
“When I met him at Juventus, he had a really different mentality from the other players I’d known,” Ibrahimovic told L’Équipe.
“He was always on my back, I thought I was doing things right but it was never good enough. He showed me that you have to give more, want more.
“He taught me that we play as we train. That’s how it works: if you train well, you play well. I don’t need to tell you the player and the professional he was.
“He was a phenomenal player who will remain in history, but I’m happy I knew the player and person. He deeply influenced my game by pushing me to give 120 per cent every day, every game.
“I’m not surprised he became a Coach, he already had that in him: his experience, his maturity, his way of helping others.
“He was always available to talk. He really helped a lot of players, not just me. There were big stars at Juve at the time, and to please them you had to give a lot, you got nothing for fee.”
One of those stars was Lilian Thuram, who told Ibra he was “young and stupid” but that he’d learn.
“Yes, and I hope I learned! Thuram was above everyone in terms of discipline and hardness in training. He had a philosophy and he was sticking to it.
“I don’t know him as well personally as Vieira, because you don’t connect in the same way with everyone, but he was a fantastic player who knew what he had to do to win and stop the strikers.
“He made training difficult for me every day and it made me better, because there aren’t many defenders like him. I made tremendous progress just from trying to get past him every day.”
Ibrahimovic is releasing a new book, ‘I Am Football’ in which he says players like him can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
“What I mean is that it’s not just talent. It’s everything I went through, all the clubs I played for, all the players I played with.
“I do not see many players who have played for as many clubs as me and have been as good as me. There are great players who have only experienced one or two clubs.
“But I played in Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, France, England, the United States; I took the risk of travelling and my career has been an adventure. I went everywhere, with my boots in my hand.
“I’m very, very proud of what I’ve done, what I’ve experienced. I seized all my chances, and that’s what I wanted to tell in this book: I am first of all footballer.”
Ibra was then asked if his confidence and charisma have helped him.
“Yes, but I wouldn’t have gone so far without my quality. Without that I wouldn’t even have played for my first club [Malmo]. You need the complete package from the start.
“You [the interviewer] are French and a journalist, so the first thing you’re interested in is personality, not the player.
“I realised that when i arrived in France, it was always: ‘who is he? What’s he doing?’. It was never ‘how does he play?’.
“When I arrived in Paris people were more interested in the show outside than in the real show, on the pitch, which is the most important thing.
“I don’t play games, I’m myself. I know you all think I play games, but you’re wrong.”