Ibrahimovic on scrutiny after opponent's injury: "I feel like I am hunted"

Zlatan Ibrahimovic - LA Galaxy - reacts angrily after win vs. Philadelphia

CARSON, Calif. — Zlatan Ibrahimovic is relieved that Major League Soccer's Disciplinary Committee declined to sanction him for the incident that has forced LAFC'sMohamad El-Munir to the sideline — and into surgery — but says he feels like he's “hunted” and that the attention he receives is “ridiculous.”

The Swedish superstar netted his second MLS hat trick in the LA Galaxy's3-2 win Friday night over their crosstown rivals, but the much of the conversation since has been about El-Munir's injury and what price Ibrahimovic should have to pay.

The Galaxy are adamant that the Disciplinary Committee made the correct decision and are thankful he'll be on the field Saturday night at Portland (10:30 pm ET | FS1 in US; TSN4 in Canada).

“I think that sometimes that kind of play happens in a game,” head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto said. “I think we need to talk more about soccer than about Ibra. [The game is] a lot [more] physical now, the soccer in the world, and I don't feel like Ibra [did] something wrong to the player, something bad. It just happens, and that's it.”

Ibrahimovic was whistled for a foul on the play but didn't receive a yellow card.

“[Not suspending him] is the right decision,” general manager Dennis te Kloese said. “I don't see any bad intention or anything that would even lead to revising the issue. I think the referee already handled it in the right way. Of course, you don't want anybody to get injured. I feel very sorry for the player, but [it happened] without any bad intentions.”

Ibrahimovic, who at 6-foot-5 is eight inches taller than El-Munir, called it an “unlucky hit” for the Libyan defender.

“I jumped like I jump every other duel,” he said following the Galaxy's training session Thursday morning at Dignity Health Sports Park. "It's not something [I do] on purpose or to hurt the guy, the only difference is I'm taller than everybody. So when I jump like that, it gets in the position of the [opponent and] it looks different. But I jump like every other duel, and that is the way I play my game. Nothing harm or whatever.

“The only this is I feel every duel I go in, the opponent, they're overreacting. ... They're looking to fall down, overreacting. it's a little bit ridiculous. For sure, the next game will be the same thing. I play my game. I do my thing to help my team, to — how do you say? — to do my best and win the game for my team.”

The incident occurred in second-half stoppage time. Ibrahimovic, battling aerially with El-Munir, spread his arms as he took flight, and his left elbow connected just above the El-Munir's right cheek, causing a zygomatic arch fracture that will be surgically repaired on Friday. The consensus afterward — from LAFC and others — was that the Galaxy star should be suspended.

“I feel like I am hunted. But when you are the best, you're hunted,” Ibrahimovic said. “The only thing I say is I hope it's not personal [that] everybody says this, because personal and professional is two different things. And I hope the referee has a fair view on the whole thing.

“The thing I don't agree with: when you lose a game, to be a bad loser like that. We don't lower ourselves to that level. If we lose, we lose. Nothing to do, we can just work harder and do better the next game. When you still complain for losing, still crying for losing, still trying for losing, it's another level. ... Even the owners are complaining. Which level is this? If you cannot beat us on the field, you try to be on the side and do things that don't belong to the game. It is what it is.”

LAFC coach Bob Bradley said after the decision that he had “sent the play to a bunch of people I've had the pleasure to coach, guys that have played in World Cups and their response is different from the league.” 

Ibrahimovic, said that he “feels” that “every game I play is reviewed.”

“That I feel a little bit hunted in that way,” he said. “That is not OK, because I play my game and I need to feel free in my game and not feel after the game [that] people will look at me and look [at the] detail at everything I do. Because that is not part of the game. We have a referee, the referee does his thing. If it goes beyond that, I understand, we have this Disciplinary Committee, but [what is] worse than [being] reviewed every game?

“I'm professional like everybody else. I should get treated like everybody else. If they cannot stop you on the field, that's it, you cannot do nothing about it. And if you try to do something outside [the field], that for me is not part of the game. That is not professional.”

Ibrahimovic, who was warned that he will receive a ban for a similarly reckless play, served a two-game suspension after an incident in May with New York City FC goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who sent a photo of scratches on his neck to the league. 

He brought it up again Thursday.

“I have to feel free in my game. I have to feel I'm doing what I'm able to do,” he said. “You have people sending pictures, and that's not cool. The last hit [to hurt El-Munir] was unlucky, that is nothing I do that I try to do what happens. But then you have the goalkeeper in New York City sending a picture of a scratch on his neck. What level is this? This is ridiculous.”