WINNIPEG — Michael Petrasso has been touched by greatness.
More accurately, Valour FC’s newest signing has been, well, smacked by one of the game’s most recognizable figures.
“In the moment it was shock,” Petrasso said, as he looked back on the day that global footballing icon Zlatan Ibrahimovic slapped him in the back of the head during a May 21, 2018 match between his Montreal Impact and the L.A. Galaxy.
Video of the ‘Zlatan slap’ has been viewed millions of times on YouTube.
“Oh I still hear about it quite a bit, it’s kinda what everyone recognizes me for now.”
Of course, Petrasso didn’t walk onto the pitch hoping to be on the receiving end of Ibrahimovic’s open hand. Pre-game, he was excited to face one of the biggest names in the sport and beat him on the field.
“Even though I got slapped by him, Zlatan is a legend, and you watch those players growing up and want to be like them, so it’s all an experience that I am grateful for,” he said.
Later adding Wayne Rooney to his list of idols he’s been tasked with defending, the 23-year-old is hoping to create some more career memories along the way. Though hopefully a bit less painful.
“I think you learn to appreciate those moments so I think it’s something I can treasure when I am older.”
It also had to be asked, should Petrasso pot a couple early goals in the Canadian Premier League season, could Ibrahimovic take some credit for letting his talents rub off on that fateful day?
“Yeah… Hopefully I can score some goals from that,” joked Petrasso.
BACK TO SCORING
Scoring goals is exactly what Petrasso says he wants to start doing again, much like when he scored five times over 29 games when Queen’s Park Rangers loaned him out to several clubs in the English third tier. His goal scoring prowess with the Canadian youth national teams began when Petrasso — just 15 years old at the time — scored a hatrick for Canada’s under-17 team against Barbados. He would go on to score five more times in the red and white and was named Canadian under-20 Male Player of the Year in 2014.
The winger joined the Montreal Impact in 2018 and was converted to a right fullback. After 14 appearances, he was loaned out to the Ottawa Fury. Injuries prevented him from suiting up in the nation’s capital.
“It’s been a bit tough,” Petrasso said when asked to describe the previous six months. “When I went to Ottawa I was a bit injured and my back started to hurt more within two days playing on the turf, so I had to stop playing and had an operation in November.”
Petrasso is calling the move to Winnipeg a ‘second chance’ for his career. When Valour FC head coach Rob Gale looked into his availability, Petrasso saw it as the perfect fit.
“Rob always got the best out of me with the national team,” Petrasso said. “He wants to bring me back to the player I used to be, where I was exciting and scoring goals.”
From the sound of things, the days of Petrasso, the right fullback, could soon be over.
“I see myself as an attacking player,” Petrasso said. “I was brought up as a winger with QPR and looked to create chances and score some goals, too.”
But that move to a defensive role isn’t something Petrasso was disappointed in. Instead, he looked at it as a learning opportunity and one that could make him a better attacker.
“It was a good experience because I was used to going up against left-backs or right-backs rather than being one.”
Not only did Petrasso gain experience in a new position, but that versatility earned him a place in the Canadian senior national team.
Already capped nine times by his country, a strong start with Valour FC could be enough to get Petrasso back in Canadian coach John Herdman’s squad. For now, though, it’s not something he is thinking about.
“Having not played in a while I’m focused on my club career, so I’d love to be called (in the future), but right now I have to focus on me and getting fit,” Petrasso finished.