Trash talk may have met its match in a world of sensitivity and technology where everything is reviewed and plastered on the internet. Disparaging one’s opponent and bad mouthing them provides an ignition that some players need to motivate themselves to perform at the next level.
Kobe Bryant, one of the best Lakers, was an infamous trash talker against his opponents. He regularly was tough on his teammates and fired them up by guiding them and yelling at them. It’s no wonder his career was so successful both individually as a team.
Many top athletes use similar tactics. So why is Zlatan Ibrahimović’s attitude and approach towards the game always on the radar? Not only does he provide journalists something to write about, but he is also one the most famous faces in the MLS, thus giving everyone an incentive to have all eyes on him.
Real Salty Salt Lake
There have been a few instances in which Zlatan was criticized for being too aggressive. Trash talking is the ignition he uses to perform, but how far is too far? According to Nedum Onuoha, threats are too far. The LA Galaxy star had an interaction with Real Salt Lake defender Onuoha. Throughout the game, the players went back and forth. Onuoha stated, “After 60 minutes of play, he said he was going to kill me.”
The trash talking was later followed by a goal scored by Zlatan. Onuoha’s inability to defend him may have been a result of Zlatan’s ability to get into his head, or maybe the trash talking hyped Zlatan up, either way, the back, and forth altercation worked for Zlatan.
So was Zlatan out of line by saying he was going to kill his opponent or was Onuoha taking it too literally? Did Zlatan really have a premeditated plan to take his opponent’s life? Onuoha sure thought so, as he referred to Zlatan as a thug on several occasions. After the match, Zlatan attempted to shake hands with Onuoha in the dressing room, but Onuoha refused.
Zlatan and Onuoha may both agree that trash talking should be left on the field, but who is more unsportsmanlike, the player who trash talks on the field or the player who refuses to shake hands after a game? It seems that if Onuoha was serious about leaving the attitude on the field he would have accepted the Swedes handshake, but that wasn’t the case. In this case, Zlatan’s attitude provided him with the fire he needed to score the game-winning goal.
Change Of Attitude
Zlatan stated, “We need to react. We need to change. We need to show what we want by the attitude.” Zlatan believes that the team needs to change its attitude and crave to win more.
In order to get into Zlatan’s mind and understand what he wants from the team, we can examine how motivated he is to win, and what he expects from others. Zlatan further stated, “Either you want it or you don’t want it. I can do for myself what I want. I don’t say I have a high attitude and the other ones don’t. I think it’s collective. It’s what you want as a collective. One shows the way, the others follow.”
He demonstrates what fire feels and looks like, and hopes that the team will pick up some of his energy. A fierce attitude can push the whole team to an intense level. After all, Zlatan played most of his career in Europe where football isn’t just a sport; it’s a way of life. The intensity there is at another level. If the MLS expects him to acclimate to the more passive personalities in the league it won’t happen overnight.
Even when David Beckham played for the Galaxy he was suspended for having too many yellow cards, most of them for trash talking and arguing with refs and players.
So why is Zlatan antagonistic towards opponents? One reason is that the trash talking provides him a reason to make self-affirmations. Positive self-talk is studied intensively in sports psychology and is a technique that works to push someone to perform to their optimal performance. If one were to get into the mind of an athlete and use this tactic, you would tell your opponent that you’re going to kill them on the field (not in real life). Your opponent would then get upset and hypothetically say, “Yeah right, good luck.” Now you can tell yourself, “I’m the best; I’ll prove it to this guy.”
This is the way it works; the go-getter mentality sometimes needs to be created. Trash talking gives Zlatan the motivation to fire back at an opponent, if he tells himself that he is the best player there is, then not only does he believe it, but he becomes it.
The LA Galaxy have enough talent to contend for the championship, but their passivity may cost them games. The Galaxy lost to the Colorado Rapids on May 29th, 2019, one of the worst teams in the league. The game should have been easily won, but they lacked creativity and a player bold enough to take shots. Zlatan was not present, and it was evident as the Galaxy were unable to get on the scoreboard. An attitude adjustment could have easily given them the edge to confidently pass and shoot.
Verbal and physical altercations, however, are two separate issues. Zlatan was suspended for two games because of the physical altercations with New York City FC goalkeeper Sean Johnson. During the game, both were given yellow cards, but only Zlatan was suspended for putting hands on Johnson’s neck. Although Johnson also had his hands on Zlatan’s neck, he was not reprimanded. Even if there was ambiguity in the situation, the MLS may have used Zlatan as an example because of past behaviors. There should be no excuse for aggressive physical contact and hopefully, players on all sides will change their behavior.
Galaxy players will have to learn from Zlatan’s mental toughness and mitigate his physical nature if they want to win. Aggression has to be mental and players on the field shouldn’t take banter or heckling too serious. Trash talk is part of sports, always has been and always will be. The physical aspect can be left out.