Issue 02: At Home With Victor Lindelof
This article is an excerpt from the Victor Lindelof interview feature from Issue 02 of GAFFER: Heart & Soul. Available now from our online store now.
A simple spray painted line can change a lot. For most people, as soon as they step over it, they enter a different mind frame, they become a different person. They become the person many people perceive them to be; an exaggerated character of a small part of their personality. Those 90 minutes every weekend is a short period of time that the whole world judges you on. They don’t see you behind closed doors, they don’t consider you to have a life away from the game. The game is something you should be devoted to, just like them, consistently and constantly.
That white line is not only you entering the football pitch, it’s you entering the lives of so many people around the world. So, you can forgive people for changing when they enter that space. You’d expect the most enigmatic characters of the game – Messrs Ibrahimovic, Ramos and Balotelli – to be completely different people off the pitch. Victor Lindelof is the opposite. He’s exactly the same person. How he plays the game; considered, composed and calm – is how he is off of it.
“I think I’m good at escaping the pressures of life, wherever I am,” Victor explains as he slides a drink across the dining table which defines his open-plan home on the outskirts of Manchester. “The moment I step off of the pitch or leave the training ground I’m good at disconnecting. I’m not really thinking about football. It’s very important to have the ability to do that. It’s not healthy to have football in your mind 24/7, you need to be able to switch off. It’s something that I’m very good at. Here at home, on the couch, wherever – I’m very good at switching off and just enjoying my life, enjoying the moment.”
When you meet someone who is exactly how you imagine them to be, it could be a little bit of a disappointment. But, in this case, it isn’t. As he opens the door, Victor has a smile that you’ve seen on the pitch many times before. But that’s exactly why we are here. Because, it wouldn’t matter if we spoke to Victor after the final whistle at Old Trafford, at United’s Carrington training ground or in his front room where we find him today. He’s the same man. Which, in this world, is something to behold.
“I think it all comes down to the way I was raised and my relationship with my mum and my brothers. We always knew what the most important thing in life was – our family. That’s never changed. When we are together, we’re the happiest. We know who we are, and we allow each other to be who we are. The best thing they taught me is to always be true to yourself. Always trust yourself and be who you are.”
As he reclines further back in the chair and measures the turn-up cuff of his shirt, it’s easy to see why he has earned the nickname of the ‘Iceman.’ He’s erudite, relaxed and attentive but when he talks about football Victor becomes more focussed. It seems an aspect of his life that is inextricably linked to his mother, his family, and his upbringing. It’s something which has given him the method to make them proud. He holds eye contact, sips his water, he ruffles with his hair. The steely confidence doesn’t waiver it just intensifies.
It’s as if he wants to get it just right. He wants you to know how much the game means to him, he wants you to know what it’s always meant to him. He never struggles for words, his distinctly strong tone and subtle pauses punctuate each sentence. In our chat he’s never buying time, never looking for a distraction. Despite sitting in the next room to his newborn baby, he’s astutely aware of everything. In total serenity.
“I’ve made a lot of sacrifices to be where I am today. You need to leave your comfort zone to grow as a person and as a footballer. I left my family and friends to pursue my dreams. Even though it was hard, it was an easy choice for me.”
“I used to play football with my elder brother, so it started there,” he explains. “We always played on the street. We had a garage and the doors were always the goal. The neighbours were never happy because of the noise. A lot of noise. There was also this proper football pitch, it was a ten minute walk from our apartment building but we couldn’t play there because we were too young. One day, my older brother took me and my friend. It was incredible. The whole neighbourhood was there. 20 vs 20. That was my childhood – always outside playing with friends. It was a perfect environment for a kid.”
“That’s not it though,” he interjects. “I was also pretty good at ice hockey. I played up until 14. I miss it. But the love for football has always been bigger than anything. It has always been closer to my heart. I was always out playing football with my friends so it always meant a lot more to me. My football team trusted me a lot more than my ice hockey team too. The ice hockey team thought I was going to pick them so they didn’t talk to me as much or explain as much to me as the football team did. That just made my love for football even stronger”
Three years after choosing to focus solely on football, Victor was plying his trade in a foreign country, at Portuguese champions Benfica. It’s a significant step in any 17-year-old’s life, especially one who was a self-confessed ‘shy child’. “I’ve made a lot of sacrifices to be where I am today,” he explains. “You need to leave your comfort zone to grow as a person and as a footballer. In my mind I knew it was going to be difficult but, because I knew that, I prepared for it. I’ve always had good mental strength, I always prepare my mind for different things. It was still very hard, of course, I left my family and friends to pursue my dreams. Even though it was hard, it was an easy choice for me.”
He smiles and relaxes again. You forget he’s 25. He’s a young man who is incredibly comfortable in his own skin. The pressures of life don’t seem to come from exterior sources. The opinions of others don’t affect him unless they come from someone he implicitly trusts – his family, his friends, the boss. “When you play in the Premier League, the focus is always on you. Especially when you play for Manchester United. There’s always a lot of pressure. It’s something you always have to be ready for. I think more than anything you have to stay true to yourself and be whoever you are and do whatever makes you happy.
“I do that all the time. I concentrate on things that make me happy, and what matters to me. So, what people say on social media doesn’t matter. For me, my family, my wife and my kid are the most important things in my life. So, that’s all I concentrate on.”
Growing up around his three brothers, Victor acknowledges that he was reserved as a boy. “I was a very happy child, very curious at the same time as being quiet.” He explains how he often took the time to observe and understand people before he would speak. It was having such awareness that made a big impact on his career and made his transition to a centre back an even easier one. Arriving at Benfica, as a midfielder – and a former number 10 – Victor accepted the challenge and the change of position because he trusted in the coach who took him to the Portuguese capital. He trusted in himself and he observed the situation, reviewed it and executed it. He acknowledges it was this process which not only paved the way to Manchester but it also helped him find his own voice.
“I can speak a lot, I can be very loud if I want to be. On the pitch, I try to be a leader through the way I play. That could be playing out from the back, going in for a big tackle or to relax the game down by taking more time on the ball. I’m more of a leader in that way.”
My last question is a simple one. Is it really possible to love football that much, when it has been the biggest part of your life for so long and has now become a job, part of a routine? “It’s not hard,” he says, pausing in what is set to be his final words of the day. “I have a lot of dreams to conquer in football. It’s what I love. I want to win trophies. That’s why I’m at this club. My main objective and my main goal is to compete and win big trophies.” The smile returns. The same smile that appeared when he first spoke about playing football against the garages in Vasteras, of his family’s commitment to his dream, and when he first told me about how he misses taking his frustrations out on the ice rink while playing hockey. “That’s it?” He replies. “Good job.” He releases his mic, places it down on the table, leaves the dining room and enters his lounge with an excited scream as he raises his newborn baby above his head. Family man, fearless centre half, Swedish national treasure. You’d never guess.
Like this article? Enjoy all cover features and interviews in Issue 02: Heart and Soul – available now from the GAFFER Online Shop.
Special pricing on early delivery.