By Sanal Mulackal
“Lions, they don’t compare themselves with humans” – Zlatan Ibrahimović, when asked who the best Premier League striker is.
Brash? Confident? Arrogant? Call it what you want, but Zlatan Ibrahimović has an uncanny ability to demand the attention of millions around the world. The immigrant son of a Bosnian caretaker and Croatian cleaner faced a tough upbringing but now oozes with character and effortlessly asserts a Midas touch wherever he ventures, whilst demanding spectators to sit up and take notice.
Age Is Just A Number
Boasting 522 goals and 202 assists, the 6ft 5in Swede who is capable of speaking five languages, has embarked on a journey across the globe, earning his place amongst the elites. Unlike most players who find that father time takes grip once they drift past thirty years of age, the Swedish giants pursuit shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. In fact, he has only improved (see below).
Since breaking onto the scene with Ajax, aged 20, Zlatan has successfully maintained a spotlight around his illustrious career, which has been carefully navigated by football agent powerhouse Mino Raiola. Together, they have orchestrated transfers between prestigious clubs including Barcelona, Manchester United, Ajax, LA Galaxy, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus, accumulating £152 million in transfer fees over the past nineteen years. This has enabled Zlatan to accumulate an estimated net worth of $195 million, whilst earning vast sums from both the respective clubs he has represented and the large array of sponsors that are queuing up to bring him on board.
In an age of rising superstars, what is it that has kept Zlatan Ibrahimović so relevant in the modern game?
Key City Strategy
Throughout Zlatan’s career, he has been sponsored by titan corporations such as Nike and Adidas, who have fiercely battled it out for his signature, in order to incorporate the superstar into their key city strategy.
This is where a small number of ‘Key Cities’ (often large cosmopolitan cities) are targeted by Nike/Adidas, in order to maximise the number of touch points with their customers and stakeholders. The hope is that this causes ripple effects beyond those cities on a national and international scale, by actively shaping trends, as well as being relevant in the eye of influencers and the media. For example, 40 people wearing the same pair of trainers across Milan is more likely to become a trend, than 40 people wearing it across Italy.
Now if analyzed carefully, you’ll notice that Zlatan has played in a fair few of these cities and some might suggest that he has engineered his career moves so it aligns with these key cities, having plied his trade in Milan (for both AC Milan and Inter Milan), Barcelona (for FC Barcelona), Paris (for Paris St Germain) and Los Angeles (for LA Galaxy). This is a win-win for both parties as it maximises exposure for both Nike/Adidas and Zlatan, who can build his own personal brand and increase his popularity around the globe, thus reducing the risk for his future ventures (more to follow). Likewise, the brands that are investing in Zlatan can utilize his immense social media following.
With 76.4 million followers on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, Zlatan provides the perfect platform for Nike/Adidas to advertise their products and generate viral advertising, such as the #DareToZlatan campaign. To add some context to this figure, the number of Zlatan’s social media followers sits between the population of the United Kingdom (67.8 million) and Germany (83 million)!
By being so popular and possessing an eccentric personality combined with elite abilities on the pitch, Zlatan is any clubs marketing dream. Did you know? Adidas generated £76 million in shirt sales within the first week of Manchester United signing Zlatan. Moreover, for two consecutive seasons, Zlatan’s shirts sold the most out of any other player in the MLS. A cash cow, if ever you’ve seen one.
Because of the aforementioned factors, Zlatan has managed to keep himself exceptionally visible and relevant within the modern game. All this, at the grand old age of 38 (which is highly commendable for a footballer)!
Life After Football
So what does life after football hold for Zlatan Ibrahimović? With the support of his advisors, the superstar footballer has made several interesting investments to maintain his legacy. Of these, the most high profile was his clothing brand, A-Z (Amateur to Zlatan), designed to make sports accessible for everyone. Whilst this venture ultimately ended in failure because of high production costs, Zlatan bounced back by investing in Swedish top flight club, Hammerby. To an outsider this can seem perplexing, but a deep dive into the club reveals that they play a swashbuckling style of football, which is backed up by their 19 goal margin as top scorers in the Allsvenskan (Swedish top flight), throughout the 2018 – 2019 season. Despite having won only one league title in their entire existence, Zlatan has identified potential within Hammerby and can use his influence to attract the best talent across Europe, to come play for his new club.
Like all successful businesses, diversifying your portfolio is important in order to mitigate risks, which is exactly what Zlatan has done by establishing ‘zlatanibrahimovicparfums’ (men’s grooming products) and Paden Zenter (Padel tennis court), both of which are growing sustainably. Moreover, owing to his large visibility across social media platforms, Zlatan is still able to attract a variety of sponsors, with the most recent being Samsung, BuddyFit and Mind The Gum. Notable previous non-football sponsors include Microsoft Xbox, Volvo and Nivea.
With the Swedish postal service producing five Zlatan inspired stamps and his first club Malmö erecting a statue in Zlatan’s honour, the boy turned lion from Rosengård, Sweden, has shown the world that anything is possible. Not only that, the outlandish Swede is a shining example of how to successfully blend a football and business career in order to maximise visibility and earnings, much like his former team mate, David Beckham.
Do you have what it takes to talk the talk and walk the walk too? #DareToZlatan