Zlatan Ibrahimovic has signed for the Los Angeles Galaxy and could make his debut for the Major League Soccer side this month, US media reported on Thursday.
The Los Angeles Times and Sports Illustrated both reported Ibrahimovic had inked a deal with the Galaxy shortly before Premier League giants Manchester United confirmed the Swedish star had been released from his Old Trafford contract.
Sports Illustrated said Ibrahimovic’s move to California would be officially announced in a full-page advertisement in Friday’s edition of the Los Angeles Times.
MLS rules allow clubs to sign three designated players who are not subject to salary limits, a rule introduced when David Beckham arrived in the league in 2007.
However, because the Galaxy have already signed their designated players for the 2018 season, Ibrahimovic’s salary will be limited to around $1.5 million (1.2 million euros) according to the Sports Illustrated report.
That represents a fraction of the reported £19 million ($26.8 million, 21.8 million euros) a season Ibrahimovic was paid after signing for United from Paris Saint-Germain in 2016.
The Galaxy have a history of luring ageing stars to America with Beckham, Steven Gerrard and Robbie Keane among those to have made the move to Los Angeles.
Former England international Ashley Cole is the club’s current captain.
Ibrahimovic, 36, hasn’t featured at all for Jose Mourinho’s United side since being substituted at half-time in a 2-2 draw with Burnley on December 26.
– United goodbye –
The Swede scored 28 goals in 46 appearances during a stunning first season in England before tearing knee ligaments in a Europa League tie against Anderlecht in April.
His form was rewarded with an extension of his contract for a second season, but the £75 million ($105 million) signing of Romelu Lukaku saw him slip down the pecking order at Old Trafford.
In a statement on Thursday, United said Ibrahimovic would leave the club with their blessing.
“Manchester United confirms that it has agreed to the termination of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s contract with immediate effect,” United said.
“Everyone at the club would like to thank Zlatan for his contribution to the team since his arrival and wishes him well for the future.”
News of Ibrahimovic’s move to California is the latest and likely final stop on a glittering career which has seen the 6ft 4in (1.95m) forward collect 31 winners medals during spells with Ajax, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and United.
As well as delivering on the pitch, Ibrahimovic’s larger-than-life persona has delighted fans wherever he has played.
Upon departing PSG in 2016, he famously quipped: “I came like a king, left like a legend.”
He was similarly flamboyant during his spell with United, saying earlier this season his recovery from his knee injury was down to the fact that “lions don’t recover like humans.”
– ‘Washed up’? –
Whether 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 ask questions of a player still working his way from a serious knee 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?”
The Swede’s reported 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.
The Galaxy’s aura has also been diminished by the arrival this year of expansion side Los Angeles Football Club — who could potentially be Ibrahimovic’s first opponents when they play the Galaxy in a derby clash on March 31.