Los Angeles sports hasn’t had a signature athlete since Kobe Bryant retired in 2016. Lakers fans haven’t put their Kobe obsession aside long enough to fully welcome LeBron. Todd Gurley and Jared Goff completely vanished in the biggest game of their lives. Clayton Kershaw is notorious for choking in the playoffs. Philip Rivers prefers Country Road to Rodeo Drive. Mike Trout is a Jersey Boy. And Kawhi Leonard is all business with no show.. . .
Then there’s Zlatan.
Zlatan Ibrahimović is famous in Europe for his brilliant play on the field and his wildly arrogant quotes off it, but casual sports fans in the States aren’t familiar with him. However, since joining the Galaxy, the Swede has wasted no time transforming himself into a household name.
When he first arrived in LA, he took out a full page ad in the LA Times that read “Dear Los Angeles, You’re welcome” with font that barely took up 5% of the page. Did Zlatan need all that ad space? No. Did he take it anyway? Yes. Why? Because he’s Zlatan.
He didn’t keep it coy during his introductory press conference either. He referred to himself in third person as “The Lion”, declared that he only came to LA to win, and claimed his age wouldn’t be a problem because he was diagnosed with Benjamin Button Disease. His most noteworthy quote came at the end of the presser when he said, “If they don’t know me, I will make sure they will know me.”
All that talk was fun and entertaining, but it would’ve meant nothing if Zlatan didn’t perform on the pitch. During his debut game of the 2018 season (which was also the first ever El Traffico between the Galaxy and LAFC), the Galaxy found themselves down 3-0, but managed to score two in the second half to make things interesting again.
Things got extra interesting when Zlatan was subbed on in the 71st minute.
Five minutes after stepping onto an MLS pitch for the first time, he volleyed a piss missile into the back of the net from 40 yards out. It was incredible. But the man wasn’t done yet. In the 90th minute with the game still tied at three, Ashley Cole crossed the ball into the box and Zlatan headed home to cap off the most legendary debut in LA sports history.
Before Zlatan, ESPN’s host of channels rarely covered MLS. Nowadays they never turn down a soccer highlight headlined by the Swede. Zlatan scores an insane goal? It’s on SportsCenter Top 10. Zlatan wins a game and talks shit in his post game presser? He’ll get an entire segment dedicated to him in the six o’clock primetime spot.
There have been a number of legends who have played in MLS, but there has never been anyone quite like Zlatan; a man so perfectly suited to quench the thirst of the US media. And the more coverage Zlatan gets, the more casual sports fans in America will get to know MLS and soccer as a whole–which is exactly what the league wants.
It’s understandable why some people don’t like Zlatan. He’s arrogant and conceited, after all. But at the end of the day, the man walks the walk. Before a recent match against LAFC, Zlatan compared himself to the rest of the players in the MLS as a Ferrari amongst Fiats. A lot of people didn’t appreciate that, especially LAFC’s Carlos Vela, who some consider the best player in the league right now. But Zlatan backed up his talk with a hat trick; and a spectacular one at that.
When the game was over, Zlatan kindly said goodnight to LAFC by yelling “Go home you little bitch” to a member of their coaching staff. It was Zlatan being Zlatan.
In a time when LA is struggling to crown its one true mega star, Zlatan is making his case to be the face of the city. His game and his personality have been a breath of fresh air and you don’t have to be a soccer fan to appreciate his ever growing legend. If he wins a championship with the Galaxy this year, he may actually get some of the locals to start calling him God.