Zlatan Ibrahimovic is known to be an outspoken personality…
In a recent interview with ESPN’s Herculez Gomez and Mauricio Pedroza, Zlatan Ibrahimovic had some direct and harsh words for Carlos Vela. Zlatan was questioned whether or not he considered himself the best player in the MLS…
“By far (I am the best player in the MLS). Because if he’s (Carlos Vela) in his prime, how old is he? 29. He’s playing MLS and he’s in his prime. When I was 29, where was I?” – Zlatan Ibrahimovic
To most, that might come across as cocky and arrogant. And if you don’t know Ibrahimovic, you’d think that immediately. Others may think he just said it to warm up the L.A. derby which will be played on Friday, with both teams within the top 3 of the Western Conference.
But whatever his real intention, what makes his response so intriguing, and the real reason why it’s been given so much publicity is that he’s totally spot on.
Ibra, turning 38 in October with such a successful trajectory, having played at Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, A.C. Milan, Paris St. Germain (all top teams in their leagues at the time), and in addition having played for Manchester United before joining L.A. Galaxy just 16 months ago, makes you incapable of questioning a player of his talent, accomplishments, and above all, mentality. Hardly will you find another player wanted by so many elite teams, and moreover leading them all to the championship after joining them.
Not to mention his 62 goals in 116 appearances with the Sweden National Team, in which he was part of both the 2002 and 2006 World Cup squads. He gave his all to his country.
Carlos Vela, 30, on the other hand, while getting off to a promising start to his career, signing with Arsenal back in 2005, derailed his career inexplicably for the following five years, going out on loan with five different teams and never establishing himself in any way.
It wasn’t until his appearance with Spanish side Real Sociedad in 2011 when he finally adjusted, made a name for himself, and proved what he was capable of. So much so that the Gunners transferred him permanently to La Real once the year long loan was up.
Vela had generally satisfactory seasons during his 6-year tenure with Real Sociedad, but managed to be mostly featured as a starter with an overall good grade of performances despite his ups and downs. Not to mention a couple of seasons with L.A. FC, where he has demolished defenses and scored jaw-dropping goals.
He demonstrated his natural-born talent he never really cared to exploit during his career, which undoubtedly would’ve led him to the best teams in the world, like Ibra. Vela is now at an age where even though he is very good, you know what you’re getting out of him, and all that’s left is to mention what could’ve been.
Apart from this, the Mexican has a dark past with the Mexican National Team. Following his performance in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, after a late party in September of 2010, Vela was suspended and fined for indiscipline.
He refused every single call up from then up to the 2014 World Cup, which displayed childish and immature behavior, but more than anything, a way to get back at the Federation for having been punished, disciplined, and embarrassed.
It wasn’t until the 2014-2018 period where he reappeared, ultimately culminating in his second World Cup in Russia 2018, where he failed to make himself noticed at all in the Round of 16 matches vs. Brazil, in which Mexico was quietly eliminated 2-0.
So, to get back to the original point of discussion, Zlatan couldn’t be more on point. He was in a better, much higher, competitive environment at every stage of his career. He’s had a more predominant role in every team at every stage in his career.
He’s played for the top clubs in the world. He’s scored more goals in his career. He’s won a championship with almost every organization he’s signed for. He’s been considered one of the best players in the world. But not Vela.
And I do take these previous accolades into account when determining who is the better player, But nothing compares ultimately to his “go get it” mentality. He has an attitude both on and off the field of sheer confidence and “nothing is impossible”. Ergo, his career.
One thing is finding a great player who can win championships. Another thing entirely is finding a LEADER like Ibrahimovic who takes the pressure of putting an entire team and country on his shoulders, who doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him, and who is ultimately a winner in every situation. And that is priceless.
So yes, Carlos Vela might be the best player statistically speaking in the MLS, and is in the perfect moment to do so, being in his physical prime. And L.A. FC might be the first place in the West come playoff time. But be aware, the playoffs in any sport are all about mentality, the clutch, and the crunch time, and only then and there is when you can differentiate the great players from the legends.
If I had to win a game with everything on the line, and they were both in their prime, hands down I’d take Ibra. Today, even with the Swedish international pushing 38, the one thing you need over everything, the “go get it” mentality, combined with his continued high levels of performance, still make this decision a no brainer. Zlatan all the way.
What do you make of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s claim on Carlos Vela?