By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (May 1, 2019) US Soccer Players - The LA Galaxy has always carried itself with a bit of arrogance that, when the team is winning, is something the rest of the league has to deal with. Arrogance combined with poor sportsmanship though is whole different thing. The LA Galaxy is back to its winning ways, at least early in the 2019 campaign. The club is doing well to collect points and thrust itself into the throes of the playoff race. After its latest victory, the team and its most famous player came off with a bit of a smudge.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic made himself and his team look bad after the club’s victory over Real Salt Lake on the weekend. Ibrahimovic had a trash talk battle with RSL’s Nedum Onuoha. Even though the Galaxy came out winners, Ibrahimovic came up looking like the loser.
After all, yelling in players’ faces after goals does not make for a good image. The Galaxy’s captain and leader, the face of the franchise and one of the world’s most recognizable players, shouldn’t do that. Of course, Ibrahimovic compounded matters by going into locker room to try and set things straight, further creating negative attention for himself and his team.
The Galaxy has enjoyed a turnaround, with Ibrahimovic playing a big role in the club’s early-season success. Ibrahimovic’s game-winner against Real Salt Lake was his eighth goal of the season. The win moved the Galaxy into 2nd-place, just one point behind rivals LAFC for the top spot in the Western Conference. There is a way to handle success and then there’s poor sportsmanship. Ibrahimovic was certainly the latter in the club’s most recent contest.
During the game in question, Ibrahimovic and Onuoha spent quite a bit of time together. RSL’s center back, a veteran of the English Premier League, remained cool and collected as Ibrahimovic tried to verbally work him over. Ibrahimovic elevated his hostility toward Onuoha by tossing him to the ground.
The singular yellow card play is part of the game. If a player’s end goal is to earn a caution, there are worse ways than to grab a player from behind and toss him to the ground. That's a guaranteed yellow every single time. What put the situation over the top was Ibrahimovic’s goal celebration. After he put the Galaxy up 2-1, Ibrahimovic turned to Onuoha and yelled in his face for several seconds before referee Joe Dickerson intervened.
From a distance, it is tough to measure the trash talk and to even be aware that it is going on. Players jaw at each other every game, so there is nothing to see there. Scoring a goal and then immediately getting in an opponent’s face? That immediately changes the scope.
You want to score a goal and rub it in someone’s face? How about just stand near the penalty area with your arms outstretched? What about a run to the sideline and followed by a bow? Or maybe just forget about all the negativity and celebrate putting your team ahead with a typical goal celebration? Instead, Ibrahimovic went with the worst option and in the process made himself and his team look bad.
His teammates though defended him. Players called his antics during the game a tactic, a way to try and get others fired up. Maybe, but the Galaxy was ahead when he pulled Onuoha down and earned his yellow card. Instead of trying to fire up the team, it would be more prudent to help protect the lead.
The Galaxy entered 2019 in danger of missing the postseason for the third consecutive year. The club has undergone several offseason facelifts since the club last reached the playoffs. Nothing has worked. This latest effort, bringing in Guillermo Barros Schelotto to coach and Dennis te Kloese to build the team, appears to be bearing fruit.
A big part of the success is Ibrahimovic. The club is paying him a Designated Player contract, rumored to be the largest salary in league history. Ibrahimovic is there for goals and leadership alongside his star power. He dons the captain’s armband and guides the team to battle every time out.
That captain’s armband carries with it some special responsibilities. FIFA outlines the captain’s role in its Laws of the Game, explaining that “the team captain has no special status or privileges but has a degree of responsibility for the behavior of his team.” While that applies to the captain’s role on the field and during matches, it does carry over to all aspects of the game.
If Ibrahimovic chooses to not behave like an ideal captain, it affects the entire team. Returning to the top is the goal of this franchise. Doing so in a dignified manner would be the best way to go about it.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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Logo courtesy of the LA Galaxy