CARSON, Calif. — There was a sense of calm before the storm at StubHub Center on Thursday, with the LA Galaxy training ahead of Saturday's rivalry showdown with Los Angeles FC — not because of the looming match, but the impending arrival of Major League Soccer's latest superstar signing.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic hits the Los Angeles area Friday, when he will go though his first training session with his new team and be introduced to the world as a Galaxy player in his introductory news conference. One practice session isn't much time to integrate the Swedish superstar, but that doesn't mean he won't get on the field against LAFC. He is Zlatan, after all, and if he wants to play, it's a good bet you see him on the field Saturday.
Consider it the first of many challenges Galaxy boss Sigi Schmid will face as the latest coach of a star who has played for a laundry list of the world's best managers.
"I think players are players," Schmid told Goal. "They want to hear when they are doing well, and they want you to be honest if they're not doing well. They look for praise at the right opportunities, and they're willing to take criticism at the right places.
"All the big names, they have one thing in common for me and that is they have a tremendous desire to win, and their ego to accomplish that is very strong," he added. "Zlatan's going to be no different than that, but all the other guys (I've coached) as well. Luis Hernandez, an Obafemi Martins, Freddie Ljungberg, they all wanted to win and were all very, very competitive. So you build upon that. "
Schmid's coaching adversary Saturday — LAFC's Bob Bradley —has had his own experiences coaching star players, such as Bulgarian legend and former Barcelona star Hristo Stoichkov, and he sees the challenge of a player like Ibrahimovic as being one any confident coach would jump at.
"The opportunity to coach big players is special, and I've enjoyed every one of those situations," Bradley told Goal. "It's challenging, but it's what it's all about, and for me what you've got to establish from day one is that you're going to hold them also to high standards. I had some great moments with Hristo, Youri (Djorkaeff), Peter (Nowak), Lubos Kubik, where if I wasn't happy then they knew and we put it all on the table, but in the end that kind of shared vision and shared commitment goes a long way."
It remains unclear whether Ibrahimovic will make his MLS debut Saturday, but he is expected to be available for Saturday’s match barring any setbacks.
"He's Zlatan, he's very confident in his abilities," said Schmid, who has already had some conversations with Ibrahimovic ahead of his arrival. "That's what's made him the player that he is, and he's ready to go, so we'll see how he feels."
Ibrahimovic hasn't seen first-team action since December after having a setback to his surgically repaired knee, but Schmid didn't sound too worried about it being an issue going forward.
"We feel pretty good about his injury, it's just he hasn't had games in a while so it's maybe going to take him a little bit to get his game rhythm again," Schmid said. "But obviously we're early in our season.
"He's a world class player, a player who gives us size up front, but he also has the ability to score goals, which is an important quality. Also, his experience, and his winning attitude that he has in leading teams to victory. Knowing how to win is an acquired skill."
Ibrahimovic has plenty of experience integrating into new teams, and the sense around the Galaxy is that there is a certain level of excitement about his arrival and a confidence that he will fit in with his new team.
"Of course it plays a big part how he comes in, but I've only heard good things," Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget said. "I think it's going to work out and be more positive than anything. We're looking forward to it."
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Getting Ibrahimovic settled quickly, dealing with the inevitable media circus surrounding his arrival and keeping the Galaxy focused on a match against their new local rival is a lot to deal with in one weekend. And that's just the first weekend of of the Ibra experience.
Time will tell if Schmid is up for the challenge.