There was something surreal about Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! this week. Something jarring about the whoops and screams that greeted his saunter onto the floodlit stage.
There was something brittle, too, about the way he responded to Kimmel’s questions. They all felt like they were crafted by an insidious PR machine, self-aggrandising reflexes placing likes and retweets above all other concerns.
"A World Cup without me wouldn't be a World Cup"
During the course of an excruciating interview, we learned that Zlatan didn’t just “put Sweden on the map”. He also claimed to a rapt audience that “a World Cup without me wouldn’t be a World Cup”. This from a man who has scored precisely zero goals in the tournament, but be that as it may.
Zlatan, of course, is past it. That is why José Mourinho was so accommodating of his departure from Manchester United. After a career lit up by spells in Italy, Spain, and France, the Swede could be forgiven for caring little about his new employers.
His chief interest these days is promoting his ‘brand’. Watching him churn through a quiver of stock ‘Zlatan’ phrases, the impression was forged of a man trying to navigate himself into a different sphere.
You can well imagine him starring in a second-rate action movie, jostling with Sylvester Stallone in a competition to see who can best murder their lines. We live, after all, in an era where traditional boundaries have become blurred. In a country that can elect a Reality TV Star as President, ‘Daring to Zlatan’ seems comparatively mild.
‘Ibra’ has always been an egomaniac, using his talent as an expression of his defiance against a difficult upbringing in Sweden. The odds were stacked against him being a success, and his career remains insolent and impressive. There will always be satisfaction in the telling of his story.
Is Zlatan in danger of being remembered as just a meme?
His talent, though, has always been a useful panacea against some of his more irritating impulses. We could stomach the curated tweets and cringe worthy memes, so long as he was leading PSG to consecutive Ligue 1 titles or scoring for fun in England. Now, as he kicks back on the West Coast, the memory of his sporting brilliance is in danger of fading. Now, he's in danger of just looking a bit naff.
It would be wrong to criticise Zlatan for too long though. Only a select group of players could score the kind of goal that he did on his Galaxy debut, rollicking a half-volley into the top corner from near the halfway line.
The standard of the opposition or the league doesn’t matter here; even on a mud-strewn pitch in a Sunday morning league, it would be a wonder goal. Zlatan might care little for L.A Galaxy, but his talent is such that it could make a big difference in a side that finished 22nd overall last year.
Fans who remember him at his best might baulk at the ballooning persona, but there’s nothing to be done. Too much money is being made, and Zlatan and his entourage have too many things to sell. He’s here for the long haul, and we’re being taken along for the ride whether we like it or not.
Do you think Zlatan is tarnishing his own legacy? Let us know in the comments section below.