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Soccer newsletter: It’s hard to say farewell to Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Portland Timbers v Los Angeles Galaxy
Zlatan Ibrahimovic
(Getty Images)

Hello and welcome to another edition of the L.A. Times soccer newsletter. I’m Kevin Baxter, the Times’ soccer writer.

At some point we’re going to have to get over the loss of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has given up the Galaxy and Southern California and will most likely relocate in Milan.

But it’s just so hard to say good-bye.

Yes he is arrogant and narcissistic, some of which is an act. But he can also be brutally honest. And that makes him difficult to ignore – especially when he’s talking about us.

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In a recent interview with GQ Italy, Ibrahimovic dished on his time here.

“Where I live, in Beverly Hills, [is] a little cold, aloof,” he said, according to excerpts published by the online site The18.com “For example, I never saw my neighbors, I don’t know them, we never said good-bye.

“On the one hand it is better, because they do not disturb you and you do not disturb them. But sometimes it would be nice to exchange a ‘hello’ and to know who I am in case something happens.”

That lack of community extended beyond the neighborhood. Oh, and another thing: everyone pays for everything with credit cards.

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“Unfortunately there is no bar, as in Italy, where you can have a chat. Only large malls with air conditioning fired to the maximum where it is cold,” he said.

“Another thing about America is that nobody ever has cash. At first it is beautiful, then it becomes a pain.... And you always have to give lots of tips.”

Perhaps Ibrahimovic’s most insightful comments were about the U.S. soccer culture. And they highlight one likely reason why the country, with a huge population and great athletes, has yet to become a soccer power.

“The sport is expensive, very expensive. In order for my children to play in a good football team, I have to pay $3,500 per child. It is not for the figure, but for the whole concept,” said Ibrahimovic, who had no trouble writing those checks since his $7.2-million contract with the Galaxy was the richest in MLS history.

But, he wondered, how many families couldn’t afford that?

“I dislike it very much because not everyone has the money needed and the sport should be something for everyone, because it unites people of whatever origin,” Ibrahimovic said. “Pelé became a champion without anything, he played with a ball made of rags. Football is the finest sport in the world.”

Child’s play

Speaking of Zlatan’s kids, his son Maximilian was one of a handful of players with a famous last name to take part in last week’s ICC Futures tournament in Florida, a U-14 event organized by the same folks who put together the barnstorming International Champions Cup each summer.

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Ibrahimovic’s eldest child played on an LA Galaxy academy team alongside Nicholas Schelotto, son of Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Ibra’s former boss as the Galaxy’s first-team manager.

Also taking part was Ethan Mbappe, the brother of French World Cup star Kylian Mbappe, who played for Paris Saint-Germaine’s team in Florida; Real Madrid forward Daniel Gudjohnsen, the son of former Icelandic national team player Eidur Gudjohnsen; and Shane Patrick Kluivert, the son of Patrick Kluivert who, like his dad before him, plays for Barcelona.

Brazil’s Vasco da Gama won the tournament, beating Paris Saint-Germain 4-3 in penalty kicks in the final. The LA Galaxy academy team finished the group stage 1-2-0 then lost to the New England Revolution, 1-0, in the knockout rounds.

In the concurrent girls’ U-15 tournament, Barcelona beat the New Jersey’s Player Development Academy 2-0 in the championship game after eliminating the LAFC Slammers in the semifinals 1-0.

The Slammers were unbeaten at 2-0-1 in winning their group. The team also claimed two of the tournament’s top individual prizes with Reese Doherty being name the Golden Ball winner as the best all-around player and Olivia Herrera winning the Golden Glove as best goalkeeper.

Galaxy aiming at moving targets

If Zlatan is gone but not entirely forgotten, he hasn’t been replaced either. Remember he was second in the league with 30 goals last season. And the Galaxy are unlikely to recover that kind of production with one signing since just two players in MLS history have scored that many times in a regular season -- and both did so in the last two years.

So far the team’s only outside signing of note is veteran midfielder Sacha Kljestan, 34, who was added as a free agent primarily to provide depth following the retirement of Chris Pontius.

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The team also extended the loan of winger Cristian Pavón then re-signed midfielder Sebastian Lletget -- using targeted allocation money to give him a raise -- and defender Daniel Steres. Both re-signed players got multi-year deals. (And while on the topic of Galaxy roster moves, Argentina winger Favio Alvarez, who spent last season on loan with the team, on Monday joined Puma of Mexico’s Liga MX.)

Other than that it’s been mostly rumors for the Galaxy during the offseason, with reports out of Europe linking them to both Paris Saint-Germain’s Edison Cavani and Barcelona’s Luis Suarez.

The problem is every rumor linking a top-name European player to MLS eventually mentions the Galaxy so separating fact from fiction can be difficult. No deal can be dismissed – after all, who really thought Steven Gerrard’s would come to Southern California? – but very few of them really make sense.

The Galaxy have quietly tried to knock down the Cavani talk but it won’t go away, partly because the Uruguayan striker would fit nicely into Schelotto’s style of play. However he’s not playing regularly at PSG, will turn 33 in February and PSG is reportedly seeking a transfer fee of more than $15 million.

When I asked a PSG official what he thought of the possibility of a move to MLS he wrote back “well, his contract is up here in June 2020” suggesting the Galaxy could wait until the summer window and pick the player up on a free transfer.

Expansion franchise Inter Miami has also been linked to Cavani, whose agent is reportedly seeking a league-record $11-million contract.

Suarez, another Uruguayan, has also been mentioned as a possible target of both the Galaxy and David Beckham’s Inter Miami. Suarez is a year younger than Cavani and has an additional year on his contract. But the biggest impediment to an MLS move might be Barcelona captain Lionel Messi, Suarez’s neighbor, who has reportedly told club officials he doesn’t want Suarez to leave.

And Messi usually gets what he asks for. So that leaves the most likely acquisition the most controversial one.

Schelotto has a well-established affinity for Argentine countrymen, especially ones who have played for him there, and that makes talented winger Ricardo Centurion a person of interest.

As Corner of the Galaxy reports, Centurion, 26, helped hometown club Racing to an Argentine title in 2014 but has bounced around since, playing for Genoa in Italy, for Sao Paulo in Brazil and for Boca Juniors , where he was coached by Schelotto.

But that’s also about the time things went south, according to Corner of the Galaxy, which reprinted this 2017 post from the website CheFutbol regarding Centurion and his ex-girlfriend, Melisa Tozzi:

“Tozzi made a number of these allegations public when she appeared for an interview outlining the nature of both the psychological and physical acts Centurion made in their time together. She stated that Centurion repeatedly told her during fights that ‘If she wasn’t with him then she would be with nobody’ while leaving her on numerous occasions with black eyes and unconscious.”

Centurion has posed with weapons on multiple occasions and reportedly fled the scene of a car crash, allegedly under the influence of alcohol.

And those are just the most egregious alleged incidents. Trust us, there’s more. A lot more.

Given that resume it’s no surprise Centurion has been unable to find a permanent home, most recently playing in Liga MX for Atlético San Luis.

At the time of the 2017 domestic-violence allegations, Schelotto said he did not condone domestic violence but made those comments only after several others in which he said players’ private lives were none of his business and that the team behaved very well in training.

Every coach should be able to sign the players he wants and believes in. But given Centurion’s substantial baggage the Galaxy and general manager Dennis te Kloese should pass on this player. The club has a well-earned reputation for being a class organization that does everything right, from putting together its first-team roster to its active charity work. Adding Centurion could only sully that.

Will the last LAFC player out of South America please turn out the lights?

LAFC, meanwhile, added another young South American to its roster Monday when the club reached a deal with 20-year-old Uruguayan midfielder Francisco Ginella.

Although terms of the agreement were not announced, a league official confirmed reports the four-year deal, funded in part with targeted allocation money, gives the club 75% of Ginella’s rights for $2.5 million.

The addition of Ginella, a central midfielder, explains why the team did not attempt to keep Lee Nguyen, who was selected by Inter Miami in the MLS expansion draft. It also gives LAFC six likely South American starters in Colombians Eddie Segura and Eduard Atuesta, Uruguayans Ginella, Brian Rodriguez and Diego Rossi and Ecuadoran Diego Palacios.

None of the six will be older than 22 when training camp opens next month.

Some of the credit for that goes to former Galaxy and Chivas USA forward Juan Pablo Angel, a onetime Colombian international and now a technical consultant with LAFC, who has helped identify and help sign young talent in South America.

Ginella played in 25 matches for Montevideo in the Uruguayan first division and made 14 appearances with the U-20 national team. At last summer’s U-20 World Cup in Poland he played alongside Rodriguez, his new LAFC teammate.

The more the merrier

The largest soccer league in the world is about to get larger with MLS set to announce today that Charlotte will join the league as its 30th franchise, becoming the fourth expansion franchise added this year after St. Louis, Sacramento and Austin. Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper, a billionaire hedge-fund manager, leads the Charlotte management group, which will reportedly pay a record $325-million expansion fee.

Miami and Nashville will play their first MLS games in 2020 followed by Austin in 2021 and St. Louis and Sacramento in 2022. The league is hoping to have the Charlotte franchise ready to play in 2021. And it’s not stopping there. Although commissioner Don Garber had earlier said 30 teams would be it for MLS, last month he upped that number to 32. (Spoiler alert: Don’t believe that; as long as the expansion fees keep growing so will the league.)

Charlotte’s expansion fee of $325 million is $315 million more than Toronto FC’s owners paid to join the league in 2007. By way of comparison, a consortium led by businessman Bill Foley paid an expansion fee of $500 million to bring the Las Vegas Knights to the NHL in 2017.

Programming note

Four of the five major European leagues will take a holiday break after this weekend’s games with only the Premier League playing through to the new year. That sounded like a good idea to my bosses so we’re going to pause the newsletter here for two weeks, returning Tuesday, Jan. 7.

(Hey, don’t blame me! I have nothing to do. I’m like the Premier League; I want to keep going. But apparently people in the office need some time off.)

So enjoy the holidays, have a happy new year and let’s meet back here in two weeks.

Quotebook

“Those kids that buy my shirt could probably be even better than Chicharito in the future. Why not? Dream big. Try to achieve those dreams and you never know. It will probably come better than you imagined. I imagined since I was in the belly of my mama about being [a footballer]. And everything that I imagined, the reality is even better.”

Sevilla striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez sharing words of encouragement with the thousands of children in Southern California who has bought his Mexican national team jersey since he debuted with El Tri in 2009

Until next time

Stay tuned for future newsletters. Subscribe here, and I’ll come right to your inbox. Something else you’d like to see? Email me. Or follow me on Twitter: @kbaxter11.


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