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Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Step Right Up And Feast Your Eyes On MLS's Newest Attraction, Zlatan Ibrahimović!

Illustration for article titled Step Right Up And Feast Your Eyes On MLS's Newest Attraction, Zlatan Ibrahimović!
Photo: Gareth Copley (Getty)

Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, may I have your attention please! We, the proud proprietors of Major League Soccer, The Greatest Show On Earth (By 2022), would like to welcome you to another season of the thrills, spills, and wildly inequitably salary bills you can only find at our glorious establishments! And boy, do we have an especially spectacular spectacle for you time around. Behold! The Big Swede himself, the shit-talking titan, the goal-grabbin’ great, the zinging and zagging Zeus of the zoccer zcene, Zlatan Ibrahimović, who has reportedly signed with the LA Galaxy!


Now, I hear some of you naysayers in the back groaning, and I think I know why. We’ve promised you that we’re no longer primarily the home of the world’s faded relics, no longer the outfit that attempts to turn a quick buck by trotting out the main attractions of yore long after they’ve dazzled the international audiences of our bigger, better European competitors. Maybe you’ve bought a ticket to a recent show that listed Rafa Márquez, or Andrea Pirlo, or Steven Gerrard as its headliner, only to step inside and witness dead-eyed simulacra of those formerly enthralling athletes trudge around the center circle, more interested in their expensive post-performance meals than participating in the action around them. Isn’t Zlatan, I imagine you critics asking, just more of the same?

Ah-ha, but this is Zlatan Ibrahimović! A living, breathing, soon-to-be kicking legend in the flesh! Would you not watch with bated breath as this famously boisterous braggart regales the public with his rakish charm in interviews? Does your mouth not water with the prospect of the cheeky, nonthreatening-yet-captivating tiffs and dust-ups he’s sure to enter into with opposing players, coaches, and maybe even his own teammates? Could you really prevent yourself from putting down some of your hard-earned money for the right to gawk at this man-bunned, eagle-nosed, statuesque giant as he saunters up and down the field of play right before your very eyes—spreading his arms wide in proud defiance when he scores, snarling at defenders after a particular coming-together that offends his regal sensibilities, hoisting his diminutive teammates skyward when things go well like a father celebrating his sons’ good report cards? Why, who wouldn’t want to watch and follow and cheer for the exploits and antics of such an unending fount of entertainment!

And yet I sense that not all of you are convinced. Nothing you’ve said has much of anything to do with actual soccer—you know, the sport you’re ostensibly in the business of producing. Zlatan has been great over the years, but he’s 36 years old, is coming off a serious knee injury which he still hasn’t fully recovered from nearly a year later, and for those reasons is far from a guarantee to be a high-level contributor even in a league as forgiving as MLS. Is it really worth getting another Pirlo? And doesn’t the act of ignoring all these red flags imply that Zlatan is little more than a big-name curio used by a league that drums up interest through the fame and former glory of old stars rather than doing so off the strength of the sporting excellence on display?

Yes, I can already hear these detractions coming from the cynical mouths of those who wish to see our good and growing league fail. First of all, not only will Ibra not be one of the league’s highest earners, he won’t even be a designated player. As reports, Ibrahimović’s putatively agreed-to pact with the Galaxy will see him make $3 million over the length of his two-year contract. Now, $1.5 million per annum is no one’s idea of a pittance, but, for a point of comparison, it’s far from the $5.5 million teammate Giovani Dos Santos was paid last season. In light of what we’ve spent on smaller names in the past, a million and a half for Zlatan is nothing.

By looking at the relatively cheap money at play, we see that there isn’t much risk. But we’re an optimistic bunch, and we’d rather focus on the reward. Zlatan is indeed an older player now, but thus far in his long and illustrious career he’s aged like a fine wine. After all, there were doubts about whether a mid-30s player who racked up goals in a soft French league could hack it in the big and mighty Premier League, and Zlatan shut those doubters up immediately during his first season at Manchester United. And remember: Zlatan is a lion. If anyone can come roaring back from those injuries at that age, it’s him.


Plus, what’s wrong with a little entertainment for entertainment’s sake? It’s impossible to argue that MLS hasn’t grown from its early days to where it is now, and arguably the biggest growth bump the league has ever seen came thanks to the addition of a former Galactic star, David Beckham. Beckham could still from time to time wow the crowd with his raw talents during his stint in MLS, but his chief appeal was unquestionably what he offered our customers by way of his fame. We’re confident that Zlatan will be Beckham’s heir as a needle-moving generator of domestic and international intrigue, with the worldwide fascination with his persona proving just as valuable as the goals he may or may not score.

And what else are we here at MLS after other than to present you, the spectator, with a product that commands your attention? Surely with our constraining salary cap, our market-neutering single-entity status, and our competition-erasing league structure, one couldn’t expect us to earnestly challenge the likes of England or Spain or Germany in quality of play, right? (At least not until 2022, when we swear we shall stand beside those leagues as equals!) In a nation with such a deeply flawed player development system, where we produce more Brek Sheas than Christian Pulisics (or even Michael Bradleys), it would be preposterous to hold America’s soccer league to the standards by which the world’s truly great leagues are adjudged, yes? Silly is the mind that believes otherwise, or that agitates for a radical change in direction that runs the risk of obviating all the precious growth our vision has already realized. You, a sane and savvy person, should never believe such silly thoughts.


We here at MLS are what we are. We are here to impress, to entertain, to captivate the minds of the customers we value so dearly. We’ve accepted that we can’t quite achieve these goals through the quality of our product itself (until 2022), and so when the opportunity arises, we will bring in live, flesh-and-blood, world-renowned avatars whose very presence signifies a level of soccer greatness, even if their current abilities don’t match their reputations. This, we feel, is a fine strategy to realize both our short- and long-term goals. The soundness of this path is borne out by the legions of diehard fans and media members who back us to succeed.

And so: Come one! Come all! Witness the one and only Zlatan Ibrahimović, ours at last! You’ve heard his name, you’ve watched him on your TVs and computer screens, and now you can touch, smell, see him up close and personal! He might not be exactly what he used to be, but he’s close enough.