Who is Zava? Meet the man behind the new addition to 'Ted Lasso' squad AFC Richmond

·5 min read

A general stadium announcement: "Ted Lasso" fans, if you haven't yet watched Episode 2 of "Ted Lasso" (streaming Wednesdays on Apple TV+), perhaps hold off reading this.

For those who have, you now know there's a new addition to the AFC Richmond roster, an imposing footballing figure who simply goes by one name: Zava.

Recruited away from more prestigious English Premier League squads by persistent Richmond owner Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham), the European megastar seems poised to change the team's fortunes.

So who is Zava? We catch up with the actor who plays him, Maximilian Osinski,  discuss which real player he's channeling and how he prepared for the role especially considering that he did not grow up playing soccer.

Maximilian Osinki surfaces in the latest episode of Apple TV+'s 'Ted Lasso' as a new soccer player, Zava.
Maximilian Osinki surfaces in the latest episode of Apple TV+'s 'Ted Lasso' as a new soccer player, Zava.

Who is Zava in 'Ted Lasso'

Episode 2 of "Ted Lasso" finds AFC Richmond players buzzing about the possible addition of a legendary player named Zava. When we meet him, he has all the trappings of stardom, from an imperious demeanor to a man bun.

Zava initially is slated to depart a European club for any number of top (and real) English Premier League teams, such as Chelsea or West Ham United, which in "Lasso" is owned by Rebecca's ex Rupert (Anthony Head). But Rebecca successfully appeals to Zava's ego and asks him to use his talents not to help an already great team, but rather a struggling team that he can transform.

"Rebecca challenges Zava precisely because she's in a point in her life where she just needs to say things like it is," says Waddingham. "She knows that the people in your life who will stick with you will stick with you. And those who won't can just jog on."

Who plays Zava in 'Ted Lasso'?

Zava is played by Maximilian Osinski, an Austrian-born, Chicago-raised actor whose credits include AMC's "The Walking Dead: World Beyond" and ABC's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." After Osinski moved to London for three months with his wife, Australian actress and model Dichen Lachman, and their young daughter, he was told "Lasso" producers were interested in him for Zava.

But there was a problem.

"The breakdown for the character said, 'He's the world’s greatest soccer player, and could be from anywhere in the world. He’s not an antagonist, more of an agitator. Actor must be able to play soccer. Please record yourself playing,'" Osinski says with a laugh. "I was born in a refugee camp in Austria after my parents fled Poland and grew up in Chicago. I can throw a football and play basketball. But I never played soccer."

But Osinski and his wife went to a park in London and filmed him working out and kicking a ball in dramatic slow motion, and that did the trick for producers.

Hannah Waddingham, Maximilian Osinki and Anthony Head in 'Ted Lasso'
Hannah Waddingham, Maximilian Osinki and Anthony Head in 'Ted Lasso'

Who is the new 'Ted Lasso' character Zava based on?

Osinski says the character of Zava borrows from the "egos and energies" of real soccer superstars such as Frenchman Eric Cantona and Polish striker Robert Lewandowski. But the preeminent role model was Zlatan Ibrahimović, a Swedish-born marvel who Osinski does resemble, from the tall, lean physique to that man bun.

"I read his book 'I Am Football,' watched documentaries, and I just admire Zlatan so much more now, how he was raised, what people said about him, how he carries himself," says Osinski. "(Series co-creator and Coach Beard actor Brendan Hunt) told me, 'You remember when Michael Jordan went to play baseball for the White Sox? Sure, he rode on the team with the bus, but his hotel room is different from everyone’s.' Zava is at a level where other professional athletes admire him."

Who is soccer player Zlatan Ibrahimović?

AC Milan superstar Zlatan Ibrahimović celebrates after a 2021 goal. The talented striker is one of the players being used as a model for a new character, named Zava, in the third season of "Ted Lasso."
AC Milan superstar Zlatan Ibrahimović celebrates after a 2021 goal. The talented striker is one of the players being used as a model for a new character, named Zava, in the third season of "Ted Lasso."

Ibrahimović, 41, who had a short stint in 2018 as the resident superstar on the Los Angeles Galaxy team in Major League Soccer, is a striker for Italian club AC Milan. He was born in Malmo, Sweden, to Croatian and Bosnian parents, and made an immediate impact as a young player, eventually becoming most associated with Milan but also playing for clubs such as Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain. He's a member of the Sweden national team and is the country's all-time top scorer.

As a player, Ibrahimović is renowned for his acrobatic style of play, particularly for a soccer player who is an NBA-worthy 6-foot-5. He has excellent ball control and pace, and his goals often come off spectacular diving kicks and headers.

Jason Sudeikis and Zlatan Ibrahimović

"Zlatan, oh man, myself and Brendan and (series co-creator) Joe Kelly love that dude," says series star and co-creator Jason Sudeikis, who oversaw Season 3. "My son and I actually sat next to him at a (Brooklyn) Nets game once, and he was lovely. We took a selfie. He joked with me saying, 'You know, a guy like you could coach a guy like me.'"

Sudeikis says the show's new player was designed to add far more than just drama and action to the locker room and on-field scenes.

"Having someone like Zava come along, well, the metaphor I would use in the writers room was, it's like having a big movie star sign on to your indie film," he says. "That brings with it visibility, a bump in budget, but also, it tends to change things, too. Sometimes you don't know how those changes play out until years later, but we didn't have years here, so we've tried to explore that dynamic in the episodes we have."

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: New 'Ted Lasso' teammate Zava is based on what real player?