The year is 1999. The place, Malmo. Here in the South of Sweden the local team, Malmo FF prepare for a new season, and looking to bring more firepower to their attack they choose to give a chance to a certain young man from their academy. That certain young man is none other than Zlatan Ibrahimovic, one of the best Swedish football players to ever play the game.
Fast forward 20 years and the same man is still making headlines: after terminating his contract with Los Angeles Galaxy, Zlatan seems to be looking for a new challenge. Now 38, an age that most football players don’t even reach at a professional level, Ibrahimovic doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Two years ago, when he decided to leave Europe for an adventure in the United States’ MLS, many thought this would be Zlatan’s retirement home.
They couldn’t have been further away from the truth. The sunny beaches of California didn’t distract the big Swede as he went on to score 53 goals and rack up 17 assists in 58 games while captaining his side to the MLS Cup Playoffs, also making to the MLS best XI in both seasons. Now that his contract with the Galaxy is over, Zlatan is hot propriety on the free agents market and, as we could imagine, a superstar like him couldn’t go on without being linked with some of the game’s biggest names.
Much speculation has been surrounding him for the past month as super-agent Mino Raiola is determined to find the best suitor for his long-time client. Ibrahimovic himself didn’t shy away from giving hints of his next destination, but this comes as no surprise as we all know he loves the spotlight and has always been quite a prankster. Zlatan just loves toying with the news reporters and keeps giving them subjects to write about.
First, he was linked to a return to the Premier League, perhaps to his former club Manchester United, a side that honestly for the past years has made a habit of erratic signings, and that seems to never regain the statute they had for so many years under the management of Sir Alex Ferguson. But after Man U gaffer Ole Gunnar Solksjaer denied any intention of signing him, the rumor quickly faded away.
Next, Zlatan said that most probably he would return to Italy, which he considers his second home. A series of suitors appeared in the press with Napoli, Milan, and even Bologna being the most often mentioned. For some time, Napoli seemed to have the pole position with Zlatan even remarking that he loves the Partenopei fans as he feels they have the same mentality and passion for the game that he does.
The chance of linking up with his ex-manager Carlo Ancelotti also strengthened the possibility of this move to happen, and everything seemed a match made in Heaven, but with Carletto leaving the Stadio San Paolo and all the internal scandals eating the club away, this possibility now appears to be fairly slim.
Among all uncertainties surrounding his future, Ibrahimovic decided to make another controversial move, posting on social media a video of Swedish side Hammarby IF kit with his name on it. Everybody was wondering if such a huge name like Zlatan would come to play for the semi-unknown Stockholm side. But in a matter of days, the enigma was solved as it was revealed that Ibrahimovic had chosen to invest in Hammarby buying a quarter of their shares.
This couldn’t have come at a worse time for his hometown Malmo supporters. No longer than a month ago, an emotional Ibrahimovic was taking pictures at the unveiling of his statue in front of his first club’s stadium. Malmo fans had hoped that when he returned to Sweden it would be with the club that raised him. Conversely, Malmo were left looking at a giant statue of their former hero outside their ground, as he prepares for a life off the pitch by investing in one of their rivals.
When a return to his homeland of Sweden was put aside, a new rumor emerged. Just after the sacking of Mauricio Pochettino and the appointment of Jose Mourinho, many voices started talking about the possibility of Zlatan joining Tottenham Hotspur. The London side are in need of a back-up striker for Harry Kane after the departure of Fernando Llorente and the relationship between Mourinho and Ibrahimovic has always been strong. However, the Special One quickly dismissed the rumor stating that Zlatan cannot be a back-up for anyone, and with Harry Kane being the undisputed starter it is clear that we won’t see the Swedish superstar strutting his stuff on the new London stadium.
So this leaves us with one palpable and logic destination: Milan. A return to the San Siro appears to be the most reasonable thing that could happen, with the Rossoneri facing another disappointing season, currently sitting 10th in the table and a long way from their desired position.
Ever since the end of Silvio Berlusconi’s era, Milan have been suffering and this season the crisis is getting worse. Already on their second manager in just 18 fixtures, the Diavolo looks miles away from the force that used to dominate Italian and European football. Coincidence has it that their last Serie A title dates back to the 2010-2011 season, when their front line was led by – you’ve guessed it – Zlatan Ibrahimovic!
But where would Zlatan fit in the current Milan side? Ever since taking over, new manager Stefano Pioli has been sticking to a 4-3-3 system with Suso and Hakan Chalhanoglu used as inverted wingers in support of lone striker Krzysztof Piatek. The Polish forward was signed by Milan after a stunning half a season for Genoa, where he managed to score 13 goals in just 19 matches. But after a good start for the Rossoneri. Piatek slowly started to fade away with just four goals in the current season. Even though he is 14 years his senior, Zlatan has never had a season with less than 10 goals, and the Italian first league is one that he knows like the back of his hand, so we could expect a better tally from him.
Also, his experience and fighting spirit could be just the small detail needed to take Milan from mid-table mediocrity back to the European scene. The only detail that needs to be fixed in order for this deal to go through is the length of the contract. Zlatan wants a one and a half year deal, whereas Milan’s management are willing to offer just a six-month contract with the possibility of an extension, depending on performance.
With Carlo Ancelotti having just landed a new engagement with Everton, and the Premier League side also in need of a world-class striker, it seems like all parts need to make up their minds really quick.
All in all, this may well be the most interesting saga of this winter’s transfer window.