Zlatan Ibrahimovic - yelling - with Manchester United

“No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride…and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well…maybe chalk it off to forced consciousness expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten.”
– Hunter S. Thompson, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”

Over the years my colleague Matt Doyle has written often about the concept of “gravitational pull” as it pertains to attacking play, based on the idea that smart strikers move in ways that distract and displace defenders for the good of both themselves and their teammates.


Matt has compiled a good rundown of the tactical implications of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s splashy arrival with the LA Galaxymake sure to read it – and Ibra will most certainly have this effect on MLS backlines and holding midfielders once he gets up to speed in LaLa Land. But I’m here to talk about a different sort of pull.


Major League Soccer is a far bigger, stronger and healthier creature today than it was in 2007, when David Beckham arrived as the biggest signing in its short history. The league doesn’t need Ibrahimovic per se, not in the way that it desperately needed a star with Beckham’s global reach and reputation a decade ago. But make no mistake – even if the MLS lake is bigger and deeper now, the dawn of zLAtan will send shock waves rippling across the water on a similar scale to Goldenballs.


Ibra is a winner. Ibra is a megastar. Ibra has no filter, “no chill.” Ibra maintains insanely high standards for himself, his teammates and everyone around him. Ibra is an icon both inside and outside his own head, and it’s a big part of what’s made him so dazzlingly successful. And none of that is really going to change just because he’s 36 now, and parachuting into a completely new environment.


“I'm looking forward to conquering the US just like I conquered Europe. I'm pumped,” he told MLSsoccer.com’s Calen Carr in the runup to his Friday unveiling. “Galaxy was the team. I chose them – they didn't need to choose me, I chose them.

“I come to do exactly what I've been doing the last 20, 23 years: Winning … it's in my DNA. Wherever I come, I won, and I will still do it.”


It’s easy to laugh off big talk like this because it’s part and parcel of the Zlatan Experience (™, probably), and it’s fun. But these are the words of a serially successful person, a furiously driven ubermensch who has blithely jousted with some of the biggest and most decorated names in world soccer.


Ibrahimovic, you may recall, lasted just one season in the rarified air of Pep Guardiola’s FC Barcelona, a true superclub that’s the sum of all dream destinations for most players. It turned out to be just one more notch in Zlatan’s belt. The Swede helped Barça win La Liga only to leave Catalonia under a cloud of conflict with Guardiola, whom he called “a spineless coward” and “not a man,” complaining that the managerial genius had used him like a Fiat instead of the Ferrari that he is.


We in the media may have to up our game, too. My lone, brief Zlatan experience, which I shared on Twitter, left me in awe of the man’s intelligence, drive and savvy. He won’t suffer fools, but he’ll be soundbyte gold, which is certainly a benefit in soccer’s constant battle for attention on the crowded North American sports landscape.

“I have a lot of expectations. I put a lot of pressure on myself, I demand a lot in my game. I think I have a lot to bring and to give,” Ibrahimovic said this week in an interview with LAGalaxy.com. “Hopefully it goes like I want and we can all share the happiness by winning.”


Rest assured: Even with many miles on his odometer, Ibra can definitely make the Galaxy a better team, especially if his troublesome right knee can hold up throughout the long MLS season. Beyond his own elite No. 9 skillset, his charisma and force of will could spur an already-talented squad closer to maximum output, while also providing the club with a poster boy in the “Battle of Los Angeles” with LAFC.


But Ibra is also a planet unto himself, spinning on his own particular axis and exerting his own weighty gravity on everything and everyone around him. That’s both a challenge and an opportunity for Chris Klein, Sigi Schmid and the rest of the Galaxy brain trust, and their club’s past experiences with superstars provide both guidance and warning.


Beckham’s time in LA ended with a sustained spell of dominance, with back-to-back MLS Cup titles in his final two seasons. But it got off to a highly rocky start, as Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl documented fascinatingly in his book “The Beckham Experiment.”


Beckham’s fame and fortune initially led to unease in the locker room and exhausting complications for the Galaxy and MLS front offices. It took a similarly strong personality in the form of Bruce Arena to bring order to a chaotic situation, and the question for LA now is whether their current leadership can nimbly navigate the super-alpha that’s about to swagger into StubHub Center. Schmid had a mostly good record with big names in Seattle, but his relationship with Clint Dempsey, the brightest Sounders star, was anything but ideal, as the coach later admitted.

Boehm: Who cares how old he is? He's Zlatan, just hop on board for the ride - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/mp6/image_nodes/2013/05/becksarena.jpg

Becks and Bruce | Getty Images


Schmid may only have a brief window in which to strike up a positive rapport with Zlatan.


Consider the words of his former Barcelona teammate Dmytro Chygrynski: “As a person, as an individual he is for me bigger and stronger than anyone else in the world. Ibra is unbelievable. The outstanding football personality. Yes, he can cause the coach problems in the changing room. But as a teammate and a football player he is the best!”


Or Massimiliano Allegri, who coached the player at AC Milan: “With him, you have to use both the stick and the carrot. Ibra is a strong personality and needs to be relaxed at times, while in other occasions he has to be stimulated, otherwise he falls asleep.”


The Zlatan roller coaster could twist and turn in any number of directions in the months ahead, and it’s no sure thing that it will end in glory for the Galaxy. But if it’s true that “the one unforgivable sin is to be boring,” then we’re in for a fun ride indeed.