Los Angeles, United States | AFP | Zlatan Ibrahimovic completed his move to Los Angeles Galaxy on Friday, aiming to conquer Major League Soccer in the final stop of his glittering career.
The iconic 36-year-old striker announced his move in a typically enigmatic full-page advert in the Los Angeles Times, which read simply: “Dear Los Angeles – you’re welcome.”
“Coming to play in the United States, it is only fitting for me to join the most successful team in Major League Soccer, the LA Galaxy,” Ibrahimovic said in a statement released later by the Galaxy.
“I am excited to join a club with a winning legacy that has embodied soccer in Los Angeles for over 20 years.”
Asked by the Los Angeles Times if he believed Los Angeles was big enough to accommodate his larger-than-life personality, he added: “If not, I’ll make it bigger.”
The Swedish star’s move to MLS had been widely reported on Thursday after Premier League giants Manchester United confirmed the player had been given permission to leave the club with immediate effect.
The Galaxy have not released details of Ibrahimovic’s contract but Sports Illustrated have reported that the forward has inked a two-year deal worth $3 million, a fraction of the reported $13.1 million annual salary he was earning in his final year at United.
Dan Beckerman, chief executive of AEG, the Galaxy’s parent company, said Ibrahimovic was not motivated by dollar signs.
— LA Galaxy (@LAGalaxy) March 23, 2018
“He’s made it clear he’s coming here to win championships,” Beckerman told the Times. “It’s not about the money. LA is a place for stars, and he’s going to be one of the brightest stars that’s ever played in this market.”
It is not known when Ibrahimovic will play his first game for the Galaxy although reports suggested he could make his debut in next Saturday’s derby against Los Angeles FC.
Ibrahimovic’s arrival in California comes after a serious knee injury last year disrupted the end of his stint with Manchester United, which he joined in 2016 from Paris Saint-Germain.
The charismatic goalscorer had not played for United this season since featuring in a 2-2 draw against Burnley on December 26.
Ibrahimovic scored 28 goals in 46 appearances during a remarkable first campaign in the Premier League before tearing knee ligaments in a Europa League game last April.
The deal makes Ibrahimovic the latest in a long line of ageing stars who have been lured to America by the Galaxy following David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Robbie Keane and former England international Ashley Cole.
Ibrahimovic’s transfer is almost certainly the final chapter of a career which has seen the 6ft 4in (1.95m) forward collect winners’ medals during spells with Ajax, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and United.
– ‘Washed up?’ –
But whether or not Ibrahimovic is likely to enjoy a similarly successful spell in America remains an open question, however.
While the technical level of the league is below that of leading leagues in Europe, MLS remains a physically demanding arena that is likely to ask questions of a player still working his way back from injury.
“Is he the physical force who dominated the top levels of the game for well over a decade?” ESPN soccer writer Jeff Carlisle asked on Thursday.
“Or is LA getting a washed-up 36-year-old forward who isn’t even a year removed from a devastating knee injury, and can no longer rely on his once-prodigious physical gifts?”
Ibrahimovic, however, told the Times he is fit and ready to start.
“I am ready to go now,” Ibrahimovic said. “First of all, I’m there to play football. I’m not there for something else. My first objective is to play football and do what I’m good at.”
The Swede’s arrival in MLS comes at a time when clubs are increasingly turning away from the recent practice of signing veteran European stars already into their 30s.
Several clubs have instead found success by looking to sign younger players from South America who view the league as a potential springboard for a move to Europe.
Although the Galaxy are the most successful club in MLS history with a record five championships, their fortunes have dipped sharply in recent seasons.
Last year, the club finished bottom of the Western Conference with only eight wins from 34 games. It was only the fourth time the club had failed to reach the playoffs, and the first time it finished with the league’s wooden spoon.