Just over a week ago, the long-rumored move of Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic to America became official, as the Los Angeles Galaxy signed the world-famous striker from Manchester United. Of all of the European veterans who have made cameos in America, Ibrahimovic might be the best — but just who is the man who’s known to one and all simply as Zlatan?
You could try to explain Zlatan solely through his Twitter account. This is a man who bade Manchester farewell with a picture depicting him, dressed as an angel, arm-wrestling the devil. Arriving in Los Angeles, meanwhile, occasioned a video that depicted him as a lion, a comparison he’s fond of making — as well as a full-page newspaper ad that read, “Dear Los Angeles, You’re welcome. Zlatan.”
You could also try to explain Zlatan simply through his legendary egotistical quotes. This is a man who told a reporter that “only God knows who will go through,” about the 2014 World Cup qualifying playoffs. When the reporter said, “It’s hard to ask him,” Zlatan responded, “You’re talking to him.” He once said, “I can’t help but laugh at how perfect I am.” When asked what he got his fiancée for an engagement present, he said, “What do you mean, ‘present’? She got Zlatan.”
That said, there’s more to Zlatan than his reputation as just another self-aggrandizing athlete. For one, he reportedly turned down an offer of $100 million from China to play in Los Angeles for $3 million spread over two years.
For another, look at his trophy case. In the 15 seasons spanning 2001-16, Zlatan’s club won the league 12 times and finished runner-up in the other three — a span that included six clubs. Even when he moved to a seventh, Manchester United, and failed to win the Premier League, the Red Devils still took home both the League Cup and the Europa League as Zlatan scored 28 goals across all competitions — 17 more than any other teammate. If Zlatan was truly a me-first diva instead of an excellent teammate, there’s no way he’d have been on so many dominant teams.
Zlatan’s first weekend in MLS might sum up the overall Zlatan Experience. He didn’t arrive in Los Angeles until the middle of the week, before the inaugural El Tráfico derby between the Galaxy and LAFC. Despite his late arrival, coach Sigi Schmid threw him onto the field with 20 minutes to go and the Galaxy trailing. Six minutes later, he launched a 40-yard screaming volley that flew over the keeper and dipped under the bar, tying the score. In the first minute of stoppage time, he scored the winning goal.
Twenty minutes, two of the most memorable goals in MLS history, and, as always with Zlatan, the win. And when it was all over, the man didn’t begin to break character. He tweeted out a clip of the goal with a simple caption: “MLZ.”
Instant replay seems to be here to stay in soccer, despite being almost universally loathed everywhere it has been tried. It’s been so unpopular in Italy that this week fans sent packages of bullets to top officials from the Italian referees’ association. Nevertheless, it’ll be used at the World Cup this summer — and probably around the world soon — despite its many problems.
Next week’s CONCACAF Champions League semifinals are pivotal for MLS. Toronto leads Club America 3-1, with the second leg in Mexico City, while New York trails Chivas 1-0 but plays the second leg at home. MLS’ two best teams are poised to potentially guarantee the first-ever all-MLS final.
The United States’ joint bid for the World Cup with Mexico and Canada continues to take hits. France’s federation president told French newspaper L’Equipe that his country would vote for Morocco’s quixotic bid, which — despite being very short on details — is receiving increasing support. The vote will be held on June 13.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
Premier League: Manchester United at Manchester City, 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Ch. 11. Manchester City couldn’t have planned it any better. City can win the Premier League title if it just beats the hated crosstown rivals, an embarrassment that United manager Jose Mourinho is desperate to prevent.
MLS: LAFC at Atlanta, 4 p.m. Saturday, ESPN. Until it got Zlatan’ed, LAFC was threatening to keep its perfect record through three games of its expansion season — a splash on the MLS stage rivaled only by Atlanta, last year’s expansion darlings. A huge crowd in Atlanta will welcome this year’s MLS newcomers.
La Liga: Atletico Madrid at Real Madrid, 9 a.m. Sunday, beIN. Real has been playing so well that the gap between it and its Madrid rival has narrowed to four points — in large part because of Cristiano Ronaldo. In his past 12 games, Ronaldo has scored an astonishing 23 goals — plus two more in international appearances.
Liga MX: Tigres at Toluca, 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Univision. It’s been a while since Toluca was relevant in Liga MX. Los Diablos Rojos (the Red Devils) haven’t finished atop the standings for nearly a decade, but with four games to go, that’s where they find themselves. A home win against perennial champs Tigres would do wonders.