STOCKHOLM: It was fitting that Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a player with near-limitless self confidence, would announce his arrival in a city packed with movie stars and big egos with a full-page newspaper advert proclaiming: “Dear Los Angeles, You’re welcome.”
The Swedish striker, who joined Los Angeles Galaxy from Manchester United on Friday, has never shied away from referring to himself in the most exalted terms – occasionally venturing so far as to call himself God.
When moving clubs soccer players usually offer platitudes, praising the teams they are joining, humbly offering their services to their new employers. That was never likely to be the case with Ibrahimovic.
“Coming to play in the United States, it is only fitting for me to join the most successful team in Major League Soccer, the LA Galaxy,” he said.
In bringing the Swedish striker to the U.S., Galaxy are getting a player who, despite being 36, still seems to have a boundless desire to win at any cost.
And it will not have been an easy decision for Manchester United coach Jose Mourinho, who worked with Ibrahimovic at Inter Milan in Italy before the pair were reunited at Old Trafford for the last two seasons, to release him from his contract.
The two were famously close with Mourinho once calling him the greatest striker in the world, placing him above Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
“He is a very important player for me, he’s a great player who is giving everything he can to help the team,” Mourinho said in January as Ibrahimovic battled his way back from a serious knee injury.
Like Mourinho, Ibrahimovic has a voracious appetite for victory.
Unlike some of the inflated egos that grace elite-level sport, Ibrahimovic’s self-assurance is built on the solid foundations of success.
Having amassed an Aladdin’s cave of silverware, he arrives in LA at the tail-end of a stunningly successful career that has seen him grace some of Europe’s finest clubs.
He has collected league championships in Netherlands, Italy, Spain and France. While he could not clinch a Premier League title at United, he certainly won over fans with his goals and performances in a side being rebuilt under Mourinho.
Ibrahimovic is undoubtedly the greatest player Sweden has ever produced, and his 62 goals in 116 games for his country is a record that will be hard to beat.
Many of the goals he scored for Sweden were stunning strikes, such as a superb overhead kick against England in the first game played at the Friends Arena in Stockholm.
He has also been awarded the Golden Ball as his country’s best player a record 11 times, including 10 in a row from 2007 to 2016.
‘GOD OF MANCHESTER’
Yet while his trophy cabinet is full to bursting, he is unlikely to win any awards for humility.
Collections of his greatest quotes are widespread on the internet: “I can’t help but laugh at how perfect I am,” he is widely reported to have once said.
“I came like a king, left like a legend,” he tweeted before leaving Paris St Germain in 2016 and before joining United he said: “I won’t be the King of Manchester, I will be the God of Manchester.”
His self-confidence is perhaps the reason why he is not without his critics despite his extraordinary success.
His single-season sojourn at Barcelona from 2009 ended in acrimony as he struggled to adapt to the collective spirit that was at the heart of the hugely successful Spanish giants under Pep Guardiola.
He has also been criticized for his choice of clubs during his career, seeming to favor dominant teams in slightly weaker leagues like France and Italy, rather than pitting himself against the very best in Spain or England.
Once viewed as being one of the best three players in the world alongside Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Madrid’s Ronaldo, his move to PSG saw him slide out of that bracket.
Like former NBA star Kobe Bryant, Ibra is not afraid to give team mates a verbal lashing when he feels they are not achieving the high standards he sets for himself.
Despite being in the twilight of his career, few observers would bet against him delivering another MLS Cup for Galaxy before retiring.—Reuters