“Ted Lasso“ Translated: Which Footballer Is the Real Zava?

AFC Richmond’s flashy addition draws inspiration from many wacky players—most notably a former LA Galaxy star

Fiction is fascinating, but it never holds a feather to the real thing. With a new season of Apple’s Emmy-winning megahit Ted Lasso on our screens, LAMag decided it’s time we Yanks learn the real stories behind the characters and situations that make up the Lassoverse; while the show’s clever writers arrange the mechanics of British footie all quite nicely, lots of these storylines are plucked from the real-life people and drama of the U.K.’s football leagues. 

And so, we give you Ted Lasso, Translated, LAMag’s new weekly walk-through of one or two real-life storylines that volley their way into Ted Lasso each week.

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In Season 3, Ep. 2, Richmond is in desperate need of a talent infusion as the team embarks on a new, challenging campaign in the Premier League. As talent is sought, one name keeps coming up: Zava.

A chiseled, mercurial character, Zava is full of talent and ideas—but not much else. The concept of “a team” or “teamwork” is entirely foreign to the star player, who hops around as he pleases. And for Los Angeles soccer fans, the Zava persona may feel fairly familiar, as much of his character is drawn from a former local player: Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Unlike Zava, who wears just his mononym on the back of his jersey, Zlatan embraced his given name over the course of his epic career. Since breaking into the senior team at Swedish giants Malmo in 1999, Zlatan has played for nine clubs, winning trophies at seven.

Unfortunately, he was ultimately unable to bring a title to the LA Galaxy during his time with the team— but he certainly made waves stateside. In his first game in MLS, Zlatan scored a goal from over 40 yards out, an achievement that was nominated for the Puskas award for world goal of the year.

How much of this L.A. journey will match up with Zava’s time with Richmond is still unknown to Lassoheads—but if he does leave the team, he’ll have to work to match Zlatan’s epic exit tweet:

Then there’s Zava’s back-piece tattoo—of himself, naturally, but shockingly, this Lasso gag is not drawn from Zlatan, but rather from Brazil and Tottenham Hotspur striker Richarlison. Speaking to GQ, the player explained that he got the tattoo because, along with inspirations Neymar and Ronaldo (tattoos of their faces flank Richarlison on his back), “I’m inspired by myself, too.” If you told me this was scripted by Ted Lasso writers I wouldn’t bat an eye.

And there’s even more Zava/Tottenham connection. First, Zava’s controversial decision to announce his signing with Richmond while at the Chelsea FC podium is reminiscent of Tottenham’s loan signing in January of Dutch winger Arnaut Danjuma. He had finished his medical tests and promotional photos with Everton but hadn’t signed on the dotted line of his new contract. Tottenham then swooped in, piping Everton for Danjuma’s signature. (Danjuma has featured in just one game for Tottenham thus far—hopefully, for Richmond’s sake, Zava will become a more impactful signing.)

The other Tottenham connection is best articulated by Higgins, Richmond’s head of football: “Zava has played for 14 teams in 15 years, leaving behind nothing but chaos and trophies.”

The prima donna who wins and quickly burns bridges is a tale as old as time in soccer, and recently, Tottenham has employed two such men as their manager. First, from 2019-2021, the mean-tempered Portuguese Jose Mourinho, and since, the grump, Antonio Conte. 

Like Zava, Conte came to the U.K. from Italy, where the manager had recently led Inter Milan to win the Serie A title. Thus far, however, Conte has not yet replicated that success in London. Far from it. Just this past weekend, after a 3-3 draw, he ripped into both his players and bosses in what many view as a naked attempt to get fired. (Yet again, Richmond fans must hope the Tottenham comparison ends in Zava’s past.)

Still, for all the inspirations that Lasso writers are using to make the Zava character pop, it’s Zlatan who is the mold here. And for that reason, it’s a bit of a shame that he is currently with Italian giants AC Milan and therefore unavailable to portray Zava himself. He even has the acting experience—and it would only be too perfect for the Swede to play the real Zlatan, as well as the imagined one on TV.

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