Manuel Veth –
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is coming to Major League Soccer. The legendary Swedish striker has terminated his contract with Manchester United and is expected to join Los Angeles Galaxy with immediate effect.
The 36-year-old Ibrahimovic will now walk in the footsteps of David Beckham and Steven Gerrard by playing for MLS’ most famous club. On the one hand, this is a signature of massive magnitude for the league and the club, but on the other side, ageing it is also a signature that goes against the MLS trend.
One of the main headlines going into the season was the fact that Major League Soccer clubs seemed to have walked away from the model of signing ageing superstars from Europe. Instead, many clubs are following the Atlanta United model by scouting in Latin America and bringing in rising talent rather than ageing superstars.
Signing the likes of Paraguayan Miguel Almiron (22-years) and Venezuelan Josef Martinez (23-years), Atlanta had an average age of just 24.8 last season and under the guidance of Tata Martino reached the playoffs as an expansion franchise. Despite the fact that several key players were turning one year older Atlanta have kept with the trend keeping the squad’s average age at 24.8 by bringing in young Argentines Franco Escobar (23) and wunderkind Ezequiel Barco (18).
Many MLS clubs have followed the Atlanta United Model
Many other clubs have followed Atlanta’s model. MLS clubs signed 26 players from South America this season with the oldest player being 27-year-old Stefano Pinho (Orlando). The average age of all new signings from Latin America was 21.7 showing that the league has indeed gone against the trend of signing overaged players from Europe.
It is in many regards a no-brainer. The United States and Canada are immigration countries with many of the immigrant’s bringing a distinctly Latin American football culture with them. As a result, MLS is simply addressing their target market by signing players that fans can identify with. Furthermore, young Latin American players have a resale value, which given that MLS is essentially an investor league promises owners a future financial windfall from selling players to the big clubs in Europe.
With all of this in mind, the LA Galaxy are now going against that trend. Coached by Sigi Schmid, the Galaxy have an average age of 26.5 without the addition of the 36-year-old Ibrahimovic. And although the Los Angeles Galaxy have done well targeting Los Angeles’ demographics by signing the Mexican dos Santos brothers Jonathan and Giovani, those signings were first and foremost made with star power in mind rather than the Mexican population.
Both are Brazilian-Mexican citizens but do not attract the same attention as compatriot Carlos Vela, who signed for the expansion team, and LA Galaxy’s new crosstown rivals, Los Angeles FC. Furthermore, both are now in their late 20s as are many of the key players signed by LA Galaxy this summer—excluding drafted players LA Galaxy’s new arrivals before the Ibrahimovic transfer had an average age of 27.5.
It is a transfer policy that to a certain extend makes sense. Going old and with star power was after all the foundation for the Galaxy to win five MLS Cups. But last season the side missed the playoffs and seemed out of sorts at the best of times.
Hence, before the season started one of the big questions on the Futbolgrad Network – Don’t Call it Soccer Podcast was whether the LA Galaxy could re-invent itself. Would the club be able to go with the trend established by other sides and build a team on youth rather than star power.
Furthermore, how would the Galaxy react to their new rivals in Los Angeles? With an average age of 25.6 and a distinct Latin American flair, LAFC seemed to hit the same key demographics as last season’s Atlanta United. The side coached by the cosmopolitan Bob Bradley, in fact, seems to be built on a foundation that is set them on a complete opposite path to the Galaxy.
Ibrahimovic transfer slows down a much needed LA Galaxy re-invention
This is a side located not in Carson, but closer to downtown. A team with a Latin American flavour that is going to attract the cosmopolitan working class in America’s second largest city. It is a brilliant setup and a counterweight to the Galaxy.
As a result, it makes sense that LA Galaxy respond the way they always have by bringing in another marquee signing from Europe in Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swede will without a doubt get his goals in Major League Soccer, but whether his body can cope with the increased pace of the league and playing on plastic pitches remains to be seen.
Then there is the World Cup question. Ibrahimovic would like to play for Sweden at the World Cup but has not played a game over the full 90 minutes for Manchester United since his injury. Hence, can he reach the fitness to play for LA Galaxy and Sweden? What happens if he does not get the call to represent his country?
Perhaps it is worth looking at the example set by Bastian Schweinsteiger last season. Schweinsteiger came in after playing just a handful of games for United and helped Chicago reach the playoffs. Ibrahimovic will likely do the same for the Galaxy, but by going against the trend, the Galaxy may slow down a much-needed re-invention off the side. Long-term that could mean the club could be left behind, in the short-term, however, we can all be excited about seeing one of the most fascinating players ever to emerge ply his trade in North America.
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others works for the Bundesliga and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth. Or contact him via email: [email protected]