Manchester United are aiming to keep Zlatan Ibrahimovic for at least one more season at Old Trafford, but their hopes of prolonging his stay for two more years are under threat after interest from MLS’s putative Los Angeles FC franchise, who have set their sights on bringing the player to America for the 2018 season.
Ibrahimovic is the Premier League’s joint top scorer so far this season, and most recently scored a vital, late equaliser against Liverpool in the weekend. He has taken Wayne Rooney’s striking position and relegated teenager Marcus Rashford to the bench. This might would have come as a surprise in the early stages of the season, when United were struggling and Ibrahimovic was conspicuously profligate in front of goal. Paul Pogba’s adaptation to an attacking midfield role, while a failure against Liverpool, has been part of a steady improvement in his contributions to the side.
At the time, Ibrahimovic’s credentials were questioned. He had spent the last few seasons at Paris Saint-Germain, and there was speculation that the lack of quality in the league had hidden a physical decline. While it is true he no longer has the strength or speed of his peak, he has adapted to English football of late and become a figurehead at United’s attack.
Jose Mourinho enjoys a good relationship with Ibrahimovic ever has since their brief time at Inter Milan. Mourinho sold the striker to Barcelona, where he promptly fell out with Mourinho’s opponent at Manchester City, Pep Guardiola. United have a collection of young or inexperienced players, such as Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial and the club are keen to retain Ibrahimovic for the future in order to provide advice and experience. There has also been talk that Ibrahimovic could be included in United’s coaching staff in future, which has in turn led to talk that the club may want to keep him at Old Trafford until 2019, not for just one more season.
However, United may not get their wish, as they will be competing with LAFC for his signature. While LA are not yet competing in MLS, they are due to take part in the competition from 2018, and are already considering moves for players to take designated player status, allowing them to spend millions per season in wages on a single player. Club officials remain tight-lipped over transfer progress, but Ibrahimovic is known to be a target. The club received encouragement, as Ibrahimovic has openly admitted that he is considering a move to America, saying in 2016:
“It’s a huge option for me. For the football and everything else. I can see myself conquering the US as I have with Europe. Lots of people stay in one place throughout their career, but I’ve traveled around like Napoleon, and conquered every new country where I’ve set foot. So perhaps I should do what Napoleon didn’t and cross the Atlantic and conquer the States as well.”
Ibrahimovic was a target for LA Galaxy and New York FC in the summer that he decided to join Manchester United, and it is expected that he will spend at least part of the end of his career in America. It would suit his ego, and his wallet, to secure one, final payoff before he retires from the game. It is undeniable that while Ibrahimovic’s form has markedly improved along with the rest of the side, he is not the player he was in his early seasons with PSG, and much of the game leaves him behind. While he uses his experience to ration his exertions, there will come a point when United will be able to bring in a striker with the ability to put more pressure on opposing defenders in possession of the ball.
United are confident of bringing Antoine Griezmann to Old Trafford in the summer to add more energy and direct attacking to the team. This would appear to be a danger most of all for Anthony Martial, but he could be moved inside to replace Ibrahimovic, as could Rashford. United failed in attempts to bring Griezmann from Atletico in the summer of 2015, when Louis van Gaal was still in charge of the club, as Ed Woodward was unable or unwilling to meet the release clause for the forward. Now that Mourinho has Jorge Mendes and Mino Raiola on board for their transfer strategy, they are held back less often by the incompetence and inertia which had defined United under the direction of Woodward, Van Gaal and David Moyes.