All good things must come to an end.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is arguably the greatest player to ever play in Major League Soccer. Once considered to be on par with the likes of Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo, Zlatan has easily become the most polarizing soccer player to take the pitch in the United States.
Zlatan's MLS debut was the most explosive in the league's history. He's scored 52 goals in less than two seasons, and his jersey has been the number one seller in the league for the past two years.
The man they call "The Lion," roared into the hearts of Los Angeles soccer fans, but if the Galaxy's 5-3 loss to LAFC on Thursday night in the MLS Playoffs was Ibrahimovic's last game in L.A., then he'll leave with not much more than a whimper.
"This could be my last game," admitted Zlatan after the loss. "Let's see what happens. Is that more important than who is winnng the MLS [Cup]?"
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He paused for a moment. Smiled and then answered his own question:
"Yes, yes it is."
Ibrahimovic's contract expires at the end of the year, and rumors are circulating that he could return to Europe where multiple clubs are interested in his services.
Many of those clubs reside in Italy where Zlatan has played with Juventus, Inter, and AC Milan over the course of his career. Recent reports have Zlatan signing with Napoli after a dinner with owner Aurelio De Laurentiis occurred in Los Angeles earlier this year.
"You know I'm very expensive," joked Zlatan when asked if those rumors had cooled recently. "Does MLS have the money [to re-sign him]?"
Ibrahimovic was also expected to leave the Galaxy after last season, with many clubs, including his former team AC Milan, interested in signing him. However, the Galaxy stepped up, and made him the highest paid player in MLS history with a $7.2 million contract.
After signing the deal, Ibrahimovic promised he would "break every record in the MLS." Instead, only his contract broke records while crosstown rivals LAFC and their superstar Carlos Vela broke every record in the MLS.
"I made LAFC famous," said Zlatan. "I made even Vela famous. They should be happy. Imagine if I'm not here anymore."
Imagining a world without Zlatan is precisely the reality that now faces the Galaxy. Zlatan helped reinvent the Galaxy from a team that missed the playoffs in two consecutive seasons, to a relevant title contender again.
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He scored a franchise record 31 goals [including playoffs] this season, and will likely be the runner-up [behind Vela] for the MLS MVP. Unfortunately, it ends with a second-round exit and an uncertain future for the international superstar.
"Individually it was successful," Zlatan said of his season as a whole. "I mean if you score 31 goals it should be a championship year. Every time I've scored 30 goals, I've won."
Only Zlatan did not win in Los Angeles. Ironically, that could be the last iota of hope Galaxy fans have heading into next season. Their idle hopes, like empty shadows, cradled in the belief that the Lion will want to return to L.A. to become the King of the Jungle again.
"When you play, you want to get credit back for when you're playing," said Zlatan, when asked if he felt incomplete not winning a title with the Galaxy. "I did my best. I think everybody did their best. What happens next year, I don't know. If I stay, I think for MLS it's good because the whole world will watch it. If I don't stay, nobody will remember what MLS is."
The ego and the id.
Freud's theory about the human psyche could be directly correlated to what Zlatan decides to do with his future. Ibrahimovic has never been known to stay with a single team for very long. In his 20-year career, Zlatan has played for nine different teams, the longest of which was a four-year stint with PSG from 2012-2016.
Zlatan's ego might tell him he's good enough to go back to Europe as legendary players like Diego Maradona and Thierry Henry did at the tail end of their careers. One last swan song in Serie A and playing in the Champions League could be the farewell tour he seeks.
He's repeatedly called the MLS "too small" for him, and knows deep down that he's still capable of competing with the game's best. When asked about the atmosphere of the latest edition of 'El Trafico' and the 23,000 fans standing on their feet throughout the 90 minutes of game action, Ibrahimovic called it a mere "training session."
"That was like a training for me. This stadium is too small for me," he said. "I'm used to playing in front of 80,000 people. Come to Inter Milan where 85,000 are whistling at you."
Most lions in the wild fall fighting, and that answer alone might tell you whose winning the battle between the ego and the id in Zlatan's inner psyche. Sure the Lion can dominate a stadium of 23,000, but he still believes he deserves a spotlight atop the greatest stages in the world.
Unfortuantely for this lion, his best days are behind him. Zlatan will never be the biggest star in Serie A, or even the best player on his own team. He will likely never win a league trophy in Italy, or hoist the Champions League Cup again. But, he can be the best player in MLS, and he can help the Galaxy win their sixth MLS title.
"Imagine if I don't play in the MLS. Who will you talk about then?" said Ibrahimovic with a smile while surrounded by a myriad of reporters on Thursday night.
There will be plenty of stars to join the MLS in the years to come for the media and fans alike to talk about. The league will go on with or without Ibrahimovic in it, and if he leaves, he already knows where he ranks among the MLS greats of past and present.
"I was the best," he said with another grin from ear to ear.