He has over 3.5 million Twitter fans. He has over 14 million Instagram followers. Before he played his last game with PSG at Parc de Princes, he had this to say:
“I came like a king, left like a legend.”
Amazingly, this statement is quite accurate. The club president even announced plans to name a stand after him upon his retirement. He is arguably the most interesting man in the world. In soccer, at least. Oozing of Scandinavian confidence, and scoring goals like there is no tomorrow, the chance of having this publicity machine play on American soil should cause casual soccer fans to rejoice. But what else could Zlatan moving to the U.S. possibly do to change the game here?
Major League Soccer could finally have it’s own counterpart to LeBron’s coverage on ESPN. AND to top it off, he’s European. Okay sure, you may be thinking so what? He has a reputation, a history of being temperamental off-field, an ego the size of Greenland, and his hair is an ever-changing piece of modern art. Big deal, David Beckham fit most of those criteria and soccer still isn’t America’s favorite sport. Very true. But let’s take a look at the stats. David Beckham could kick a set piece like no other, and off the field he was a tabloid sensation. But in his 6 seasons in MLS, he scored 18 goals, averaging just 3 goals a season. Zlatan is a different story. He isn’t just exciting to watch on set pieces. This past season with PSG in league play, he scored 38 goals in 31 games. He’s 34 years old. While many could say MLS has held on to its less than admirable reputation as a retirement league, it’s hard to deny that Zlatan still has the right stuff to be considered one of the best in the world.
He’s played with Barcelona, Inter, Juventus, PSG, and now…Philadelphia? Probably not, especially if the man with an ego has conditions to coming here. Early reports have reported that he would be coming to the LA Galaxy, as most stars from Europe appear to do, yet the Galaxy’s current stock of talent seems to have reached its limit, financially at least. The team already has the maximum number of Designated Players allowed, so unless MLS somehow changes the rules to allow the Galaxy to become to American soccer what Glasgow Celtic is to Scotland, it seems another destination could be necessary if Zlatan is still interested in coming to America on the next plane.
How about New York? No, not New York City FC, they have already reached the maximum amount of Designated Players as well with Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard, and David Villa filling up plenty of cap space. There is a team across the river with quite a bit less star power that could use a boost in the standings at the moment.
Yes, the Red Bulls have undergone a thorough restructuring process that most notably involved a philosophy shift from attracting aging European stars to building off of younger, more physical, homegrown talent. Yes, this shift worked wonders last year as the Red Bulls coasted to a first place regular season finish despite an early exit from the playoffs. However, 11 games into the current season, the Red Bulls sit in 8th place out of 10 teams in the Eastern Conference, scoring a total of 13 goals in those 11 games. Who has a reputation of scoring an unfathomable amount of goals?
The next step in the progress of MLS is to get more people to watch games on TV. This guy is quality television. Who could possibly be a better draw for soccer ratings in the U.S? Mario Balotelli, maybe.