FC Cincinnati Fans Say, ‘Enter the Zlatan’

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FC Cincinnati is approaching a sellout for Saturday night’s game against LA Galaxy at Nippert Stadium. Why on earth would that many people choose to pay for a ticket—and possibly parking, food, drinks, merchandise, etc.—when the home team is toiling in the Major League Soccer basement?

 

For one, the ticket sales reflect the city’s appetite for both professional soccer and a game against a marquee opponent like the Galaxy, who sit second in the Western Conference standings and have won a league-best five MLS Cup titles. And, yes, FC Cincinnati’s status as an expansion team befits it as a novelty act to non-sporting diehards; attending a match is a “cool thing to do” around town, particularly on a Saturday night.

Is there any other possible reason for the forthcoming big crowd under the lights at Nippert? I can think of one: Zlatan Ibrahimović. The 37-year-old striker joined the Galaxy last May after an extended run of success (and controversy) in Europe. His career as a first-team player began in 1999 when the Swede cracked the first team of Malmö, his hometown club, and since then, he’s accomplished quite a bit on and off the pitch.

Ibrahimović is unequivocally one of the best footballers of his generation, having tallied over 500 goals for club and country while winning 33 trophies.

He has played for club football royalty across Europe, with stops in France (Paris Saint-Germain); England (Manchester United); Italy (A.C. Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus); Netherlands (Ajax); and Spain (Barcelona). He’s the only player ever to suit up in the Champions League with seven different teams.

A 6-foot-5 stallion capable of extraordinary athletic feats, Ibrahimović has scored some of the millennium’s defining goals, including a 30-yard bicycle kick vs. England and a slaloming, how-can-he-do-that-at-6-5 masterpiece for Ajax. His Galaxy debut last season is the stuff of legend, as he fired in a 40-yard volley for the tying score and flicked in a stoppage-time header to complete the Galaxy’s stunning comeback over rival LAFC.

He is a quote machine, having uttered the following: “I can’t help but laugh at how perfect I am. … Zlatan doesn’t do auditions. … We’re looking for an apartment. If we don’t find anything, then I’ll probably just buy the hotel. … I won’t be the King of Manchester, I will be the God of Manchester.” Interested in more? Here you go.

He is, depending on your point of view, either a misunderstood competitive machine or an egotistical bully to both teammates and opponents. Recently, Ibrahimović was suspended for grabbing a goalkeeper by the neck and was also accused of verballing threatening another player. He’s threatened to break a teammate’s legs, had scissors thrown at him by an Ajax teammate, and broke a rib fighting with former U.S. international Oguchi Oneywu. At Barcelona, Ibrahimović allegedly threw a training kit at famed manager Pep Guardiola and threatened to beat him up.

With a salary of $7.2 million, Ibrahimović is the highest-paid player in the 24-year history of MLS. He’s been worth the money though; in 39 games with the Galaxy, he’s scored 33 goals and assisted on 13 more.

Who wouldn’t want to pay to see The Zlatan Show? Ibrahimović is theater unto himself, a figure who evidently thinks of himself as more than a man, somewhere between a living legend and a Greek god. And with FC Cincinnati having conceded 15 goals over its past four MLS contests, bet on the Zlatan running wild and free at Nippert.

In a lost season on the field—which took another dour turn Wednesday night when FCC was upset in the U.S. Open Cup by second-tier Saint Louis FC— Saturday evening will provide a must-see event for local fans, even if the Orange and Blue are headed for another shellacking.

Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. Off the pitch, he is the associate editor for Signs of the Times magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.

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