Zlatan Ibrahimovic's long and winding career is set to take another turn. Manchester United released the veteran striker, despite earlier indicating they'd pick up the second-year option in his contract. Things change, though, and a significant knee injury for the 35-year-old Swede means he wouldn't be ready to play again until January 2018, by most estimations.
Assuming Zlatan doesn't retire (please don't!), here are 9 possible landing spots — some definitely most plausible than others — ranked by likelihood.
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Ibrahimovic cut his teeth as a senior player in his native Sweden (that's him in a Sweden kit), so could he return to where it all began? Malmo are qualified for next year's Champions League, so he wouldn't miss out on Europe, although they could be out of the competition by the time he's back in January. There's also the issue of money, which Malmo aren't exactly flush with. It would take a miracle and a huge act of compassion for Ibrahimovic to return to his roots and play well below his worth. But this is Zlatan we're talking about. He's built his brand on doing the unthinkable.
Paris St. Germain
When Ibrahimovic left PSG last summer, he said he "came like a king, left like a legend." That's very true, so would he risk tarnishing that glorious exit with a return back to the Parc des Princes? He won France's Player of the Year award three times during his tenure in Paris and he didn't leave on bad terms, so the door isn't shut on that front. PSG, however, don't really need him at the moment as Edinson Cavani has flourished without his former teammate around. If anything, they're concerned with keeping their existing players, like Marco Verratti, well-paid.
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Nobody has linked Zlatan to Liga MX and, right now, there’s no reason to think any club in the league is pursuing him. But Tigres did pull Andre-Pierre Gignac from Europe, and there are rumors that Chivas will offer $20 million for Hirving Lozano. The Mexican league is starting to make a leap, spending real cash and showing more ambition than they ever have before. Now, are they going to land Zlatan? Probably not — that would be a massive jump and the first of its kind in Liga MX. But is it out of the realm of possibility? No.
Are there limits to Tigres’ ambition? Do America respond to Chivas’ title with the biggest splash in league history? It’s possible, albeit unlikely.
Manchester United FC
Ibrahimovic is fueled primarily by two things: Winning and money. He's fed his craving for the latter by being obsessed with the former. He's won trophies in the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, France and England. If he went to Bayern, he'd pretty much be guaranteed at least one more domestic trophy from a different country. With Robert Lewandowski still in his prime and banging in goals, Bayern Munich don't necessarily need Ibrahimovic. And yet, the Bavarians aren't exactly flush at the backup striker position with Thomas Muller failing to impress. It's a long shot, but it actually could be a decent fit.
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Back with United
Just because Manchester United released Ibrahimovic doesn't mean they're necessarily casting him aside entirely. He far exceeded expectations and led the whole United in goals scored by a wide margin last season. Jose Mourinho previously said they planned to pick up the option for a second year on Ibrahimovic, but following the Swede's knee injury that'd just be naive. He was certainly set to make a handsome sum on that contract and would reasonably only be fit to see out half of it. Perhaps United could negotiate a lower per-week rate that makes both sides happy.
Arsenal are always in the market for a striker, and, all kidding aside, they could do worse than a 35-year-old with a surgically repaired knee. Ibrahimovic wouldn't be the savior that most Gunners fans are looking for, but at least he'd be something. Ibrahimovic has shown he's more than capable of scoring against Premier League defenses and he could provide a stop-gap option as Arsenal try and reel in a top-flight striker for the future. Would Zlatan be willing to join a team that's without Champions League next season? Again, he's done that already.
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After years of frustration and borderline irrelevance, AC Milan are on the come up. They have loaded new owners that are putting together a project that's among one of the most exciting in all of Europe. Milan's new ownership group has already broken the bank for a number of new, high-quality signings. Ibrahimovic last played for Milan from 2010-2012, winning the title on loan from Barcelona in 2010/11. A return to Italy could be in the cards if Ibrahimovic wants to help restore AC Milan's glory.
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Chinese Super League
Anytime a big name becomes available, the Chinese Super League is automatically attached. Despite the news about there being spending caps put on teams for "burning money," I'll believe it when I see it. If Zlatan wants one last, giant payday, he could look toward the free-spending CSL to cash in. If a team is willing to pay Carlos Tevez a reported £310K per week, imagine what Ibrahimovic could make.
The most logical fit for Ibrahimovic could very well be Major League Soccer. The way the American league's schedule shakes out, Ibrahimovic wouldn't stand to miss any time with whatever club he signs with, assuming he waits until he's healthy. The 2018 MLS season should start in late April or early March, giving Zlatan a full three months to get up to speed with an MLS team if his recovery goes according to all estimates. It just so happens that a new team in Los Angeles, LAFC, plans to host their inaugural season in 2018. What bigger way to make a splash than to sign one of the biggest-named strikers in the world? And if they can't make it work, any number of MLS's owners would likely line up to try and woo Ibrahimovic.
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