• Pienaar recalls escaping hotel fire with Ibrahimovic

    Former Bafana Bafana and Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar has revealed he once had to escape a hotel fire while rooming with Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Ajax, but not before the Swedish star asked him to go back and grab his bags first.

    The two played together at the Dutch club as youngsters, with Pineaar featuring from the club from 2001 to 2006 after joining from Ajax Cape Town in his native South Africa.

    Ibrahimovic, meanwhile, was with Ajax from 2001-04 before heading to Juventus to continue what turned out to be a legendary career across Europe.

    Throughout that career, many stories have been told of Ibrahimovic’s brashness and confidence, and Pienaar had his own tale of what it was like rooming with a young Zlatan.

    ‘I usually roomed with Zlatan and Rafa (van der Vaart). I remember one game at Groningen where we stayed near the town the night before the game. Hooligans in Holland can be quite active, but our hotel was quite secluded and we didn’t think there would be any problems,’ he told the Athletic.

    ‘We had our evening meal and then went to our rooms. We watched TV and went to sleep only to be woken at one in the morning by the club doctor, wearing pyjamas. Very calmly, he told us not to panic but that there was a fire and we needed to take our bags and leave the room.

    ‘”What do you mean, a fire?” I asked. “The team bus is on fire,” he replied.

    ‘That’s when I remembered that the bus was parked right below our window. I pulled the curtains back, saw the flames jumping high and thought the bus was going to explode. I picked up my bag. Zlatan was standing there and said: “Don’t just leave, you have to get my bag as well!”

    ‘We waited outside the hotel for 90 minutes in the freezing cold and weren’t sure when the game was going to be played. Ronald Koeman, our coach, told us that we should go back to sleep. I slept with one eye open.

    ‘The game was going to be on. Koeman, who was like a father figure for us, said: “Look at what they put you through. Have a cold shower, because half of you are asleep, and win the game.” We won 2-0 and Zlatan scored.

    ‘Zlatan and I would have single beds and there wasn’t that much space between them. Sometimes, for no reason, he’d just start kicking me. I’ve no idea why, but he was a nice guy. We lived close by and we’d play PlayStation together. Good times.’

    Pineaar also recalled the famous incident of Egyptian star Mido throwing a pair of scissors at Ibrahimovic, although the defender says it wasn’t that big of a deal at the time.

    ‘Two young boys who were winners. They were actually good friends,’ he said.

    ‘We’d played a Champions League game and they had an argument about who hadn’t passed the ball or something. The argument started on the pitch and carried on in the dressing room. My seat was next to Zlatan’s. Mido was taking off the strapping from his ankles with scissors. He threw the scissors and they hit the wall between Zlatan and me.

    ‘Senior players said it was good that we argued, because it showed we had a winning mentality.

    ‘It came out in the papers and looked like a big deal, but they actually drove home together after the game. We had a tight dressing room.’

    Pineaar is currently coaching with Ajax as he’s already earned his Uefa license.

    Ibrahimovic, meanwhile, joined AC Milan this winter after a stint with the LA Galaxy, although there is concern over the striker’s future after he suffered an injury in training on Monday.

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