The worst fears about Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s injury in last week’s Europa League match came true. In the final minute of regulation time in Manchester United’s win vs. Anderlecht, he tore his ACL, which will sideline him until next year.
So where does the 35-year-old striker go from this? Here is a look at the most likely options:
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Battle back and return to Man United
After the news broke that Ibrahimovic has suffered significant ligament damage, the star was quick to announce his intention to bounce back. "I will go through this like everything else and come back even stronger,” he said in an Instagram post.
There’s no question it would be a tough road back for Ibra, but given that he has been Man United’s most effective player this season, it’s hard to rule it out. He has scored 28 goals this season, which is 18 more than anyone else on his team. If he achieve anything close to that form, there should be a role for him to play.
Play in China after his recovery and cash in
If Jose Mourinho sours on the prospect of building a team around Ibra again, there wouldn’t be much shame in looking at China. It’s possible that Ibra’s injury will scare off at top clubs who will be concerned about a player coming back from a major layoff in his mid-30s, but that might not concern Chinese Super League clubs.
The league has caught attention for its record-setting spending and a willingness to put premium price tags on good, but not necessarily great players. (A rumored £500,000 per week for Oscar, anyone?) Ibra could be next to follow the likes of Oscar, Obafemi Martins, Ezequiel Lavezzi, and Hulk to China. Even if Ibra comes with some injury baggage, he could still demand a lot in China and cash in before calling it quits.
Getty ImagesGareth Copley
Make good on reported offers from MLS clubs
Rumors have been flying of MLS clubs targeting Ibra for some time and they haven’t shown signs of slowing down since his injury. Ibra has repeatedly been linked to a move to Los Angeles, and arguably, his latest injury could make it easier for MLS clubs to fend off competition from other leagues to sign Ibra.
MLS has been a popular landing spot for players toward the end of their careers because the pay is good and the lifestyle trade-off is often better. But MLS is generally moving away from signing older stars and players like Sebastian Giovinco, Nicolas Lodeiro and Ignacio Piatti more closely resemble the kinds of Designated Players clubs want these days. Ibra would need to prove that he’s not only a big crowd draw, but he’ll be able to hack it in a physically demanding league and deliver on the field.
Action Images / ReutersTYRONE SIU
Finish his career in Sweden, France or another return Europe swing
Ibra seems to be all about proving himself and he went to the Premier League to prove he could dominate. Even if Manchester United are going to fall well short of the EPL title, Ibra has largely done that with his dominant play. So having proved his point, maybe he’ll go back to somewhere more comfortable to finish his career?
His home country of Sweden just might be the best place for him to finish his career. It's where he started his career with Malmo FF and he hasn't been back for club play since. But there are others homes away from home he could return to. His stint for PSG was one of his most memorable and surely French fans would love to see him again. But he’s played in Italy, Spain and the Netherlands too, which would also figure to be comfortable landing spots.
AFP/Getty ImagesKENZO TRIBOUILLARD
Call it a career and retire
Ibra vowed not to retire due to this injury. In his message to fans, he wrote, "One thing is for sure, I decide when its time to stop and nothing else. Giving up is not an option.” We know better than to doubt Ibra.
But recoveries don’t always go as planned. Some players breeze through them while others will never be 100 percent again. At 35 years old, Ibra is fighting against time and, given that he probably is looking at a return of sometime in early 2018, that may give him time to reconsider his future.
Our prediction? It’s probably MLS
This is somewhat dependent on whether or not Manchester United can secure a spot in next season’s Champions League. If they can, expect Ibra to be extra motivated to come back. Jose Mourinho isn’t afraid to cut the cord on players, but he seems to have a special affinity for Ibra — if Champions League rolls around, Mou may want Ibra’s winning mentality and the depth he'd bring to the squad.
But if Manchester United doesn’t make Champions League, or if Ibra’s recovery is taking a bit longer, MLS seems like the best Plan B. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking on our part, but MLS clubs would love to have a character like Zlatan even if it’s a bit of a risky signing, and the striker would love a new experience he can try to dominate. The rumor mill certainly keeps churning and his injury may help his chances of landing in MLS more than it hurts them now that MLS teams may have less bidding competition.