Warshaw: Zlatan returning for 2019 is a thrill, but Galaxy have work to do

Zlatan Ibrahimovic - LA Galaxy - Points to the sky

He’s back.

The 40-yard volleys. The karate kick goals. The quotes. The greatness, the drama, the unexpected, the holy crap. There’s more coming to a stadium near you.

I let out a sigh of relief when the news broke. Whether you’re a Galaxy fan or not, I suspect you did, too. The karate kick goals, et al. More, please.

It got hairy when reporters suggestedZlatan Ibrahimovic might depart for AC Milan. But on Tuesday, the LA Galaxy announced that he signed a new Designated Player deal with the team to extend his stay.

It was a key part of the Galaxy’s offseason plans to get the Lion to commit to the club for 2019. But it also opens up a new wave of questions.

Yes, Zlatan scored 22 goals and added 10 assists in 27 games last year. Yes, Zlatan had a better goal-creation ratio than even Josef Martinez. Yes, Zlatan has more trophies than most players on the Galaxy could fit in their homes. But lest we forget...

If we could rewind 10 months, before the Galaxy signed Zlatan, when they had a potential starting lineup with Ola Kamara, Romain Alessandrini, Sebastian Lletget, Jonathan dos Santos, Perry Kitchen, Ema Boateng, Ashley Cole, and David Bingham, did you have them slotted into a playoff spot? I bet you did. Maybe you didn’t have them as a top 3 team like I did, but I bet you had them making the playoffs.

So that same group adds Zlatan and the sky’s the limit, right? Well, ideally. But as you know, the floor fell out. Something went wrong. The Galaxy lost five of Zlatan’s first seven starts; they went winless over seven games later in the season; they ultimately missed the playoffs. There were a bunch of contributing factors: First and foremost, the defense struggled, mightily. In addition, Lletget took time to recover his form after an extended injury layoff, Alessandrini had a bit of a sophomore slump, and Giovani dos Santos was a non-factor for basically the whole season. The failure on those counts wasn’t Zlatan’s fault. But we also can’t ignore the connection. Zlatan didn’t fix all ills, either.

What’s the role of the star player within a team? How did they add a player like Zlatan and fall flat on their faces? 

And that's the best part of Ibra re-signing for the 2019 season. The goals that go viral around the world are amazing, but the true intrigue around Zlatan and the Galaxy for 2019 will be his assimilation. It touches the core of group dynamics; the type of question we all ask ourselves every day in our own workplace; the question that managers around the world have been asking for years.

How do you mesh talented individuals into a cohesive unit? How do you get the most out of the superstars, while also maximizing the output of the group? The Galaxy failed at it in 2018.

The toughest task for an MLS manager in 2019 won’t be replacing "Tata" Martino or rebuilding the Rapids defense or getting someone in the SKC forward spot to score some dang goals. It’s finding Zlatan’s place within the Galaxy. What’s the right system to both let their superstar do what he does best, but also get the most out of the other 10 players? We know a single player can't win titles alone in soccer, and LA will only find success with multiple players putting in strong seasons.

Zlatan is a giant personality, larger than almost every manager in the world, and likely larger than whoever the Galaxy will sign. He’s also 37 years old, and with everything he offers, he has his limitations. He can’t put in the miles defensively that other players can offer. For as bad as the Galaxy defenders were last year, they didn’t get much help from their attackers; the link can’t be ignored.

They aren’t mutually exclusive, but they aren’t automatically intertwined, either.

They have the most talented player in the league – one of the most talented players in the history of the sport – but can his heralded return actually lead to silverware for the Galaxy?

I’m thankful Zlatan’s returning for 2019. I’m looking forward to more craziness and drama. The Galaxy could and probably should be better with him there. But it’s not a given.

If they learned anything in 2018, they should have learned that.