After playing for some of Europe’s stellar names and building a medal collection the size of his ego, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, at 38 years old, could retire a happy, fulfilled man having achieved what some footballers can only dream of. Except, this isn’t just any 38-year-old man we’re talking about.
With his two year stay at LA Galaxy officially at an end, the larger than life Swede has confirmed that ‘the story continues’ someplace else.
Who dares to Zlatan next has put the rumour mill into overdrive with potential destinations. But look closely and there’s one recurring theme.
Back to where the star was born
A player of Zlatan’s standing is always going to be linked across the globe. England, Spain, China, Brazil, Argentina, Sweden have all been mooted as the next landing spot for the nine- club man.
Yet, as much as a return to England or a career rounding move back to hometown club Malmö aren’t beyond the realms of possibility, there is a place known to be a home from home.
Italy and specifically, Serie A, is where Zlatan spent his formative years. Spells at Juventus, Inter and AC Milan, spanning seven seasons no less, dwarfs his playing time in any other league. The country is essentially a second home for Ibrahimovic.
It’s no great shock then to see the likes of Bologna, Fiorentina, Milan and Napoli linked with the free agent. Each club represents a different challenge and has its unique pull but if for the moment the exact location is a matter of debate, almost certain is a return to the stage where Zlatan arguably produced the best football of his career.
A move that will benefit all
It’s a move that makes sense all round. Not only will Zlatan have the chance to extend his everlasting career in a country where he enjoyed great success, but his potential return would also represent a real coup for Serie A and Italian football in general.
Italy’s premier division may still be one of the big four leagues in Europe and hold a degree of charm and romance. But it’s no secret that, in terms of popularity, it’s the fourth of four and trailing the Bundesliga, La Liga and the Premier League by a considerable distance.
Only recently, the process of trying to broaden the league’s reach began with the opening of its first US office. It’s hoped the expansion plans will allow for more media opportunities in a part of the world where soccer continues to grow at quite a pace, helped in no small part by that man Zlatan of course.
Further opportunity for growth and getting the Serie A brand out there, will surely come via the legalization of sports betting in the US, which is spreading from state to state like wildfire incidentally.
Both New Jersey and Pennsylvania can point to booming industries comprising some of the biggest names in the gambling sector as this overview of the sports betting sites in New Jersey goes to show. Much like the partnerships that exist between US sports teams and league bodies, Serie A could set a precedent for leagues outside of the states.
The return of Ibrahimovic to Serie A in the meantime will aid the league in gaining the exposure it is looking for across the Atlantic, no doubt about it. Expect to see the profile of Serie A rocket instantly stateside with fans of the MLS intrigued to follow a player that has left a lasting impression and made a positive contribution to the standard of their domestic league.
Where will Zlatan be playing in 2020?
And so, the big question. Reports circling suggest former club AC Milan are the clear frontrunners and the bookies clearly back this notion offering odds as short as 1/5. Despite their lowly status right now, the chance to help restore the Rossoneri in some fashion is an attraction in itself. He’d be unlikely to win much at the San Siro however.
That’s why Napoli appear the most logical bet, although a longer shot at 5/1. Gli Azzurri have pushed Juventus hard in recent years and are a well-supported club that can realistically challenge for the Scudetto. Zlatan would be reunited with ex PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti too – another big motivational factor.
But if we’re talking old acquaintances, his friendship with Bologna boss Sinisa Michajlovic could see Stadio Renato Dall’Ara become home, though, again, the idea of lifting a trophy would be sacrificed. 7/1 says he links up with his old pal at Serie A’s 15th placed team.
And then there’s Fiorentina. The chance to line up alongside Franck Ribery and Federico Chiesa as part of an intimidating front three would be quite the spectacle, albeit perhaps wishing thinking on behalf of La Viola faithful as the 20/1 price suggests.
Either way, a fascinating few weeks in store for Serie A. The calm before the Zlatan storm, you could say.