LOS ANGELES (AP) Zlatan Ibrahimovic has really always belonged in Hollywood.
The powerful 6-foot-5 Swedish forward has loomed above soccer for nearly two decades, captivating the world with his sublime physical talent and uniquely outrageous personality. He has scored hundreds of majestic goals, won dozens of trophies and scuffled with a few teammates on his journey from Malmo to Milan to Manchester.
When Ibrahimovic officially landed with the LA Galaxy on Friday, he announced his arrival in a new nation with classic, theatrical, Zlatan-esque style.
“Los Angeles, welcome to Zlatan,” read the caption on a social media video featuring Ibrahimovic and a lion.
“Dear Los Angeles, You’re welcome,” said the back page of the Los Angeles Times sports section, with Ibrahimovic’s signature at the bottom of the mostly blank sheet.
Ibrahimovic has been labeled as both a beloved hero and an arrogant villain during his career of high-scoring exploits, but most everyone would agree he is the very definition of a star. The ponytailed 36-year-old could capture the attention of the world’s entertainment capital in a way that even David Beckham couldn’t manage.
“After 20 years in Europe, playing for the best clubs in the world with the best players in the world, I decided it’s time to move to a different continent,” Ibrahimovic said in an interview distributed by Major League Soccer. “Move over to the U.S., try the MLS. For me, there was no question about it. Galaxy was the team, and I chose them. They didn’t need to choose me. I chose them, and I come to do exactly what I’ve been doing the last 23 years: Winning.”
He’ll start next week, when the Galaxy formally welcome him to Los Angeles just three games into their 2018 MLS season. If he feels comfortable immediately, he could even debut in a derby against their new archrival Los Angeles FC on March 31.
The Galaxy are coming off a last-place MLS finish after winning a paltry eight league games last season, but Ibrahimovic doesn’t expect the five-time league champions’ woes to linger with him leading the line.
“I want to accomplish as much as possible,” Ibrahimovic said. “Wherever I went, I won, so I’m coming with this objective. I come to win. I want to win. I think it’s in my DNA that I’m winning trophies. It’s not luck.”
Ibrahimovic hasn’t played since Dec. 26 for Manchester United, which released him from his enormous contract for the move. Yet he returned swiftly after injuring a ligament in his right knee last April, and he said he has been “training very hard” for months.
“I need to play,” Ibrahimovic said. “I’m like a little child that you give candy for the first time, and he’s looking for candy all the time, so that is what I need. I need to play, and I want to play, so I’m hungry to play, because it has gone too long now that I haven’t felt involved in the game.”
Ibrahimovic also showed his motivation in the financial aspects of his move. He isn’t one of the Galaxy’s three designated players, instead taking a two-year deal paid with targeted allocation money – $3 million total, according to numerous reports – to fit into the Galaxy’s payroll structure.
Instead of banking a much fatter check from a European club, Zlatan appears determined to show his abilities in person to millions of new fans on a continent where soccer support has grown steadily for a generation.
Ibrahimovic’s move also should energize the Galaxy, who will mix him into coach Sigi Schmid’s intriguing collection of international talent. While French winger Romain Alessandrini and Mexican forward Giovani Dos Santos might not provide the same level of service as Paul Pogba, the Galaxy starters are among the best players in MLS, and Ibrahimovic must learn how to connect with them.
Ibrahimovic also confirmed he hasn’t ruled out a return to the Swedish national team for the World Cup this summer despite retiring from the international game in 2016, saying that “the door will always be open.”
“But I think the main focus now is Galaxy,” Ibrahimovic said. “I settle in. Get to know my new teammates. Get to know the club. Get to know the city. When I feel comfortable there, you take the next step.”