Atlanta United entering Zlatan’s world

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Combined ShapeCaption
Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Atlanta United will enter Zlatan World on Saturday when they take on the L.A. Galaxy at Stubhub Center.

It’s a world dominated by consistent winning, outrageous goals and a bragging that’s Muhammad Ali-like in that it’s entertaining and backed up with almost 500 goals for clubs and country and enough trophies and awards to fill an Ikea warehouse.

A few of Ibrahimovic’s quote’s encapsulate the Swedish superstar and his effect on soccer and entertainment:

"I can't help but laugh at how perfect I am."

With two exceptions, everywhere he’s played he has won a league title. The exceptions were Malmo, his boyhood club in Sweden, and Manchester United, where he didn’t win the league, but did help the team win the League Cup, Europa League and Community Shield.  Between those stops, which started in 1999 and ended when he was released by Manchester United earlier this year, Ibrahimovic won league titles at Ajax in the Netherlands (2001-02, 2003-04), Inter Milan in Italy (2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09), Barcelona (2009-10), A.C. Milan (2010-11) and Paris Saint-Germain (2010-11). At one stretch, he was on teams that won eight consecutive league titles.

Though his body already is covered in tattoos, his resume of personal awards would cover him twice over if he decided to memorialize himself.

“... He’s a world figure,” Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino said. “Important figure at every club he’s been, as well as his national team. I don’t think I can add anything to his discussion.”

"I think I'm like wine. The older I get, the better I get."

Well, this is true, too. Coming off knee surgery and at 36 years old, he has already scored three goals, including two game-winners for the Galaxy, in three games.

“You can only hope to contain him, right?” Atlanta United midfielder Jeff Larentowicz said. “He’s a monster. He can score a lot of different ways, as we’ve seen already.”

Larentowicz has long been a fan of Ibrahimovic’s. During college at Brown, Larentowicz said he trained at Malmo one summer. “He’s enjoyable to watch and enjoyable to follow.

“Probably less enjoyable to play against. We will have to put up a fight.”

"You can't coach brilliance like that."

Though he said this years ago it still stands: Just look at his 45-yard goal in his L.A. Galaxy debut against LAFC. Because of the impact, it is already considered the front-runner for MLS goal of the year, an honor currently held by Atlanta United’s Hector Villalba. He has won goal-of-the-year awards given by Eurosport in 2004, Italy’s Serie A in 2008, Sweden in 2012 and ’13 and France’s Ligue 1 in 2014.

So, how do you stop a player as big and strong as Ibrahimovic from pulling off another piece of brilliance?

Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst said it starts with realizing that Ibrahimovic is no longer the speedster who is going to try to get behind defenses on breakaways.

So, Atlanta United likely will start with a high line to try to keep Ibrahimovic as far from Brad Guzan’s goal as possible.

If Ibrahimovic gets near the box on set pieces, counters or in the run of play, Parkhurst said they must mark him tightly.

“He’s very strong,” he said. “Good in tight spaces. Need to make sure we are aware of his whereabouts.”

And if he gets the ball and shoots from 45 yards again?

“That’s Brad’s problem,” Parkhurst joked.

"Onyewu resembled a heavyweight boxer. He was nearly 6-foot-5 and weighed over 15 stone, but he couldn't handle me."

Though teammates in L.A. say he’s been a joy in the locker room and on the field, Ibrahimovic has had a run-in with a teammate and at least one manager during his illustrious career.

He famously got into a fight with U.S. national team player Oguchi Onyewu after he signed with A.C. Milan.

He also didn’t get along at all with manager Pep Guardiola during his short stay in Barcelona. He felt Guardiola misused him, saying, "When you buy me, you are buying a Ferrari. If you drive a Ferrari you put premium petrol in the tank, you hit the motorway and you step on the gas. (Pep) Guardiola filled up with diesel and took a spin in the countryside. He should have bought a Fiat."

"I came like a hero, left like a legend."
He said this after leaving Paris Saint-Germain. If he can lead the Galaxy to its sixth MLS title, it will again be accurate.