Zlatan Ibrahimovic is heading to the LA Galaxy. Will he be a boon to MLS, or is this an unnecessary publicity stunt?
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s imminent move to the LA Galaxy raises some old, perhaps uncomfortable, questions about the league. The 36-year-old is undoubtedly one of the highest profile signings in the league’s history, but with a new focus on young talent that can be developed and moved on, the timing is a little awkward.
What hunger has he left inside him? What intensity will a player who has won almost everything at the club level in Europe bring to the challenge? As he surely knows, his legacy won’t be harmed by his twilight years in MLS, which of course means we have to wonder whether he’s simply jumping at the opportunity to live in LA and pick up one last pay check.
There’s no doubt Ibrahimovic has been one of the best players in the world over the last decade, but he’s coming off a serious knee injury sustained in the Europa League quarterfinal last season. He made his comeback for Manchester United in November of 2018, but looked significantly worse than he did in his first season at Old Trafford.
We’ll find out whether Ibra is up to the task physically soon enough, but his signing is more interesting for what it tells us about the current state of MLS overall. The recent failures of the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo helped emphasize the problems with signing superstars with no regard for what they offer on the pitch.
Partly in response to this, MLS has begun to focus on youth players and hot prospects from South America. Atlanta have been at the forefront of this shift, scouting heavily in South American and hiring the former Argentina manager Tata Martino. The feeling seems to be stepping stone is a much more flattering label for MLS than retirement home.
Ibrahimovic’s move will be welcomed by many, a chance to watch one of the greatest strikers the game has seen. However, others will see this as another sideways step, a regression to the worst tendencies of the league. With extra scrutiny on the national teams and youth development, this signing has the potential to go wrong quickly.