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Ibrahimovic exit from LA Galaxy leaves MLS without its biggest star

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Credit: Getty Images)

Major League Soccer will be without some significant star power in 2020 after Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Los Angeles Galaxy “agreed to mutually part ways”.

“I came, I saw, I conquered. Thank you @lagalaxy for making me feel alive again. To the Galaxy fans – you wanted Zlatan, I gave you Zlatan. You are welcome. The story continues…Now go back to watch baseball,” the Sweden forward tweeted.

Ibrahimovic follows DC United striker Wayne Rooney and Chicago Fire midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger out of the MLS door. The veteran internationals represented three of the top five MLS jerseys sold in 2019, with Ibrahimovic topping the list for both seasons he was in the league.

Known for his incredible play and viral soundbites, Ibrahimovic also drove ticket sales in MLS, with many LA Galaxy away games selling out ahead of his visits to clubs. ‘Ibra’ also significantly increased engagement on digital and social media channels: in May 2018, the top 57 posts from MLS club Instagram accounts featured Ibrahimovic, while in the week he joined LA Galaxy, in March 2018, the club’s Instagram channel following grew by 21 percent.

Former USA defender Alexi Lalas, who is now a Fox Sports broadcaster, told SportBusiness: “Zlatan was a star in every sense of the word. Zlatan helped increased the interest, relevancy and business of MLS by perfectly marrying and balancing that all too rare combination of unavoidable personality and undeniable talent.

“But I’ve yet to see anyone who believes that the LA Galaxy isn’t going to improve without Zlatan. Such is the challenge and problem of a team with one player whose mere presence demands all the attention, energy and support. Zlatan is a player that requires a completely subservient supporting cast. Teams often find that this can be exhausting, frustrating and ultimately unsustainable. I wish we had more Zlatans.”

Jake Cohen, a sports lawyer, told SportBusiness: “Ibrahimovic’s departure represents a significant blow to MLS and the Galaxy, at least in the short term. Both on and off the pitch, Ibrahimovic moved the needle for both the league and his club. On the pitch, he averaged nearly a goal per game for the Galaxy and is responsible for some of the best ‘highlight reel plays’ in MLS history.

“Off the pitch, he remains one of the sport’s true global superstars, and helped drive ticket sales, shirt sales, and made both his club and the league more appealing from a commercial and sponsorship perspective. MLS will continue to grow with or without any one player, but Ibrahimovic had a demonstrated positive impact on the league – one which will no doubt be missed.”

Relevent Sports executive chairman Charlie Stillitano tweeted: “Zlatan Ibrahimovic had the biggest impact on #MLS since Beckham, no question. He played the role of ‘heel’ like a WWE wrestler and always seemed to back up his talk with his play on the field. Incredible player and personality. The league needs more guys like him.”