Will Zlatan Ibrahimović make an impact on the LA Galaxy? Or will the lion go out quietly?
In like a lion and out like a lamb.
That’s how the old proverb goes, usually in the context of talking about the weather in March. But for the LA Galaxy (1-1- 0) in the latter stages of the month, it’s most definitely the opposite as the season started like a lamb and now includes the lion himself.
The club on Friday officially announced the signing of Zlatan Ibrahimović. The 36-year-old Swedish striker made his announcement on twitter, in which an alternating video of Ibrahimović and — you guessed it — a lion flickered on a smoky sound stage.
“Los Angeles welcome to Zlatan” the 6-foot- 5 superstar said in a classic flip of a normalized introduction. And it couldn’t be more telling of the personality the Galaxy have taken in.
A full-page advertisement in the Los Angeles Times – reportedly at a cost of more than $30,000 – read simply, “Dear Los Angeles, you’re welcome. Signed Zlatan Ibrahimović.”
It was an ad that was grossly over-valued for the number of words, but also worth every penny in the emotion it conveyed.
Ibrahimović has scored more than 450 goals in his illustrious career with club and country and has played for some of the biggest teams in Europe. Those include Ajax Amsterdam, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United and the Swedish national team.
He’s won 11 league titles in four countries in addition to leading his sides to major championships, among them UEFA Europa League, FIFA World Cup, UEFA Super Cup, Italian Super Cup (three times), French League Cup (three), French Super Cup (three), a Dutch Super Cup and Dutch Cup.
“Coming to play in the United States, it is only fitting for me to join the most successful team in Major League Soccer, the LA Galaxy,” Ibrahimović was quoted as saying. “I am excited to join a club with a winning legacy that has embodied soccer in Los Angeles for over 20 years.
“I would like to thank everyone at the club for making it possible to play for the LA Galaxy. I am looking forward to joining my teammates, playing at StubHub Center in front of our fans and helping our team compete this season.”
There are those who will argue he’s too old or too injured to play in MLS – he is, after all, coming off a major knee injury – but there also is a shrewdness to the deal that makes the gamble the Galaxy are taking seem almost tame in comparison to the reaction it is sure to receive.
At a reported $1.5 million per year over the next two years and falling under the league’s expanded Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) rules, Ibrahimović is not the highest-paid player on the team. Not even close.
He ended his United career with 29 goals in 53 appearances, but his stock started to fall after a devastating knee injury in the Europa League semifinal against Belgian side Anderlecht last April 20. That injury, a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, kept him sidelined for more than six months. A hasty return resulted in another knee injury last winter and he did not play for United again.
His fitness level surely is a legitimate question for the Galaxy, but coaches feel confident he will be ready to display his goal-scoring prowess.
“Adding one of the finest goal scorers in this sport’s history to our roster will tremendously help our club in the hunt for a sixth MLS Cup,” Galaxy head coach Sigi Schmid said in a statement. “As one of the winningest players of all time, we believe he’ll have a very positive impact on our team.
“We are confident that Zlatan can be one of the most dangerous strikers in our league and we are excited to integrate him into our club.”
Ibrahimović will wear the No. 9 jersey, last worn by former crowd favorite Alan Gordon.
Strangely, there are big shoes to fill by wearing that number.
Gordon was a community guy who thrived on being part of the Galaxy family and interacted with fans in every way. He’d even purchase beer for supporters groups and regularly signed autographs until no one else wanted one.
There still are some housekeeping issues to take care of regarding Ibrahimović, as far as club officials are concerned. There are, for example, eight internationals on the roster and the Galaxy will need to free up a spot for him. This could happen in a number of ways — by purchasing an international spot from another team, trading an international player or cutting one.
Such prospects might put the likes of Michael Ciani (France) or João Pedro (Portugal) on notice. Rumors swirled before the season about Ciani possibly getting the boot, and Pedro seems to be an afterthought for Schmid at the moment. But surely, after what feels like months to prepare, the Galaxy already have a strategy worked out.
Finally, the Galaxy will need to integrate Ibrahimović into a starting lineup that already has featured spirited battles for various positions.
And how does he fit with newly acquired Norwegian striker Ola Kamara? Will Giovani dos Santos, who has been struggling to find his place and form with the club since 2016, make way for the Swedish striker? Or will Schmid end up sitting a talented midfielder like Sebastian Lletget to make room for Ibrahimović?
And with Ibrahimović’s giant ego and personality now on the club, are the front office, coaches, and players willing to put up with the circus that is sure to surround the organization? Even Schmid will need to be questioned about how he handles one of the world’s biggest sports stars.
The Galaxy have taken a major risk by signing Ibrahimović and that should not be downplayed; failure is a realistic option. And with Steven Gerrard’s disappointing reign at the club still on followers’ minds, there is no guarantee this deal will work.
But with a Galaxy team that already appears much improved from the debacle of 2017, the club simply is betting on greatness.
That by making this move the five-time MLS Cup champions regain their place at the top of an MLS hierarchy that has seen them as the shining example of what success in a big city looks like for soccer in the United States.
But success or failure, Ibrahimović has entered like a lion. And for the Galaxy, his exit cannot be that of a lamb.
TRANSACTION: LA Galaxy sign Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimović using Targeted Allocation Money (TAM)