HERRIMAN — For Real Salt Lake fans hoping to boo Zlatan Ibrahimovic when the LA Galaxy make their annual visit to Utah, they’ll to have to wait a while.
RSL doesn’t host the Galaxy until the third to last game of the season on Sept. 25. By then playoff scenarios will likely be the biggest talking point ahead of the match, not necessarily the underlying storyline of RSL defender Nedum Onuoha and Ibrahimovic.
Last weekend, however, the biggest storyline in MLS was the Onuoha-Ibrahimovic confrontation.
It started when Ibrahimovic pulled Onuoha to the ground from behind in the 60th minute of last Sunday’s game. The players jawed back and forth, but the moment passed after Ibrahimovic was shown the yellow card.
When the striker scored the game-winning goal in the 76th minute, he got right in Onuoha’s face and screamed.
After the final whistle the players went their separate ways, but strangely it didn’t end there. Ibrahimovic went into RSL’s locker room to talk to Onuoha.
“I don’t know how it happened; it’s not something I ever expect to see again and not something I’ve ever seen before,” said Onuoha.
What exactly Ibrahimovic was hoping to achieve entering RSL’s locker room isn’t known.
Onuoha recalls that when Ibrahimovic walked into the locker room he said, “have I calmed down yet big man.” Onuoha said Ibrahimovic never actually apologized.
At that point, Onuoha said he basically told him to get out of RSL’s locker room.
“I was already frustrated because we’d just lost the game, that was the bigger deal for me. All the stuff about celebrating in my face and all that, I don’t care, he can do whatever he wants to do,” said Onuoha.
The antics of a star player isn’t something new to Onuoha. He spent the past 14 seasons playing in England, with 188 games in the Premier League and 147 in the League Championship second division.
A player with less experience or pedigree might’ve backed down from Ibrahimovic, but definitely not the veteran center back.
His stoic reaction on the field to Ibrahimovic screaming in his face, and then not backing down to the awkward locker room visit are subtle ways Onuoha demonstrates his leadership on the squad.
He said it wasn’t necessarily leadership, it’s just who he is as a person.1 comment on this story
“If what would’ve happened to me had happened to somebody else, I would’ve been in there, and I think that’s the mentality with which more people need to get onside and appreciate that we are all in this together, and whether or not someone is a star or whether someone is first game playing out of college, you defend your own and hopefully we’ll do that going forward,” said Onuoha.
Five months from now when the Galaxy make their return visit to Rio Tinto Stadium, Onuoha will be more concerned about points for his team than getting even with Ibrahimovic.