Title Image - Steve Carrillo
Steve Carrillo

Zlatan leaves an Ibrahimovic sized hole as he departs the Galaxy

More than just a goalscorer, replacing Ibrahimovic is an impossible task for the Galaxy. But one they’ll need to attack quickly.

CARSON, Calif. — In a classicly ambiguous social media post, the Zlatan Ibrahimovic era has come to an end with the LA Galaxy.

The 38-year-old Swedish striker will not re-sign with the LA Galaxy for 2020 after scoring 52 goals and adding 17 assists in 53 starts for the Galaxy since he joined the club four games into the 2018 season.

“I came, I saw, I conquered,” he posted on Instagram and Twitter. “Thank you, LA Galaxy, for making me feel alive again.

“To the Galaxy fans – you wanted Zlatan; I gave you Zlatan. You are welcome. The story continues… Now go back to watch baseball.”

And for all the good Ibrahimovic did on and off the field for the Galaxy – the goals, the assists, the attention – there were some downsides as well. There were more than a few rumblings that he strained relationships in the locker room as his demand for perfection from those around him made him more a bully than a leader, and his constant criticism of the league made many MLS fans grow tired of his act.

But even in those criticisms – of the format, the travel, the wages – he was rarely called out as being wrong. Just blunt in his assessments.

However, in his successes, he also got Los Angeles and much of MLS to pay attention to him wherever he went. He put El Trafico’s on the map, he scored some of the biggest goals in team history, and he always made sure that doing something impossible was usually probable when he was on the field. And He demanded worldwide attention with his play, his antics, and was brash, outspoken, confident, and cocky.

And for every time he tore off his shirt, stared down an opponent, or got into a heated disagreement with an official, he was also kind to fans, adored talking to children, and posed for endless pictures and autographs.

He was a club and supporters dream in those regards.

“We would like to thank Zlatan for his contributions to the LA Galaxy and Major League Soccer,” said LA Galaxy President Chris Klein. “Since his arrival in 2018, Zlatan has positively influenced the sport of soccer in Los Angeles. We are grateful for his work ethic and passion. We thank Zlatan for his professionalism and immeasurable impact on the Los Angeles community and the soccer community in North America as a whole.”

It was just a week earlier, that Galaxy General Manager Dennis te Kloese was cautious when discussing the club’s plans regarding Ibrahimovic. Although in hindsight, perhaps his tone already acknowledged Ibrahimovic’s departure.

“We need to be obviously careful on that situation,” te Kloese said. “He scored an enormous amount of goals; his stature and recognition toward him is enormous. It’s like a luxury to have him, but I also know he has different options, and he’s a big name overall in the world.

“I think in the upcoming days, we’ll have a good solution.”

And in a three-paragraph press release — in stark contrast to the full-page ad the Galaxy took out in the LA Times when he was announced — the club acknowledged that two sides had mutually agreed to part ways.

The Galaxy, for their part, must now turn their attention to filling a void left by Ibrahimovic’s 30 goal-season in 2019 which speaks nothing about the void left in the personality and star department. And with question marks surrounding the future of Designated Player Romain Alessandrini, the Galaxy may be shopping for a new high-priced goalscorer with over $7-million in reserves from Ibrahimovic’s vacated salary.

However, midfielder Cristian Pavon is scheduled to become a DP next season. So if Alessandrini were to keep his DP status, the Galaxy would have no room to add another DP.

It’s a complicated situation for the Galaxy who now must attempt to do the impossible — they must replace the personality and the production of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. And if the departures of David Beckham, Landon Donovan, and Robbie Keane were any indication, it won’t be a smooth transition.

And even while the impossible stares them in the face, there’s hope that Head Coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto and te Kloese will find a better fit for a 4-3-3 system — a system that could use a high-energy attacking and pressing striker to force teams to turn the ball over in their own half.

But make no mistake about it, with the eyes of the world on any stadium that Ibrahimovic fills, next year’s locker room is likely to feel just a bit smaller when it comes to Ibrahimovic’s absence. What that means on the field for the Galaxy is anyone’s guess.