20131027

How Zlatan Ibrahimovic can make history as the 25th William Hill Sports Book of the Year

To those familiar with the literary standards normally associated with footballers' autobiographies, it will come as no surprise to learn that the William Hill Sports Book of the Year has yet to find a winner from that genre, even though the most prestigious of all sports book prizes is now in its 25th year.

That might be about to change.  Among the shortlist for the 2013 award, announced after the field of 17 named in the longlist was reduced to six, is I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the self-told story of one of Europe's most successful strikers.

Published in Sweden in 2011, the memoirs of the multi-decorated striker -- currently with Paris St Germain after a career that has brought him league titles in Italy, the Netherlands and Spain as well as France -- sold 500,000 copies in hardback within two months and subsequently achieved worldwide sales running into millions.

Ibrahimovic is not short of fans -- the rapture that greeted his four goals for Sweden against England in a friendly last year was proof of that -- but it was not so much his fame but the unvarnished nature of his story that captured the public imagination.

Now published in English by Penguin, it has plainly had a similar effect on the William Hill judges.

In essence, it is a rags-to-riches story of a boy from Rosengard, a deprived area of Malmo populated largely by immigrants, whose parents -- a Croatian mother and a Bosnian father -- drank and fought and split up when he was only two and left him at the mercy of ghetto life, where he clung to football and the possibilities it offered as a means of surviving.

He charts his career in the professional game with the same graphic honesty, revealing the sides of top-level football that tend to be kept secret.  With the help of David Lagercrantz, a Swedish journalist and author, Ibrahimovic tells tales that are sensational on one level but on another merely portray football in the raw, with no attempt to spare reputations, or to sanitise the truth.  Ibrahimovic is happy to admit that football has been good to him -- he has, after all, achieved much that he dreamt about as a poor immigrant, when he fantasised about marrying a pretty, blonde Swedish girl and living in a calm and ordered Swedish neighbourhood -- but neither does he pretend that the journey to success has been smooth, not least because of his own rebellious nature.

I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be judged alongside the following before the winner of the 2013 William Hill Sports Book of the Year is announced on 27 November:

Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong (Simon & Schuster), in which the Sunday Times journalist David Walsh recounts his refusal to let go of the story of Tour de France winner Armstrong's doping he suspected to be true as early as 1999 -- 13 years before the American was finally brought to justice.  Buy

Doped: The Real Life Story of the 1960s Racehorse Doping Gang (Racing Post), in which the Financial Times writer Jamie Reid tells the true story of one of the biggest doping scandals in British racing history, when an attempt in March 1962 to nobble a horse carrying the royal colours led police to uncover the London gangsters behind a series of spectacular coups. Buy

The Boys In The Boat: An Epic True-Life Journey to the Heart of Hitler's Berlin (Macmillan), the story -- told by the American author Daniel James Brown -- of Joe Rantz, who turned to rowing to escape the sweat and toil of working class America in the 1930s and ended up winning a gold medal at the Berlin Olympics. Buy

The Sports Gene: What Makes The Perfect Athlete (Yellow Jersey Press), in which David Epstein, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, adds to the ongoing nature versus nurture debate by exploring the complex role of genetics in sporting success. Buy

Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy: A Journey to the Heart of Cricket's Underworld (Bloomsbury), which is the result of the fearless exploration of India's illegal bookmaking industry undergone by Ed Hawkins, the Racing Post and Betfair cricket betting expert, which reveals the extent of match-fixing in international cricket. Buy

William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2013: The Longlist

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