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With Zlatan Eyeing Return to Italy, Should Roma Get Involved?

Ignore the axiom about headlines with question marks—Roma need help up front and Zlatan needs a job.

Vancouver Whitecaps FC v Los Angeles Galaxy Photo by Shaun Clark/Getty Images

I'll go to my grave believing that Roma's infamous Mr. X, the one who was prophesied to bring 12,000 fans to the airport during Walter Sabatini's heyday, was none other than Zlatan Ibrahimovic. I have no firm or rational basis for this belief, it's just always been a hunch (and, sure, maybe some wishful thinking). Uncle Walt wasn't prone to hyperbole, so I'm inclined to believe he was shooting for the stars that particular transfer window.

Zlatan didn't end up in the City of Seven Hills, instead conquering Ligue 1 with PSG and later serving an awkward two-year term with Manchester United, but I like to think there's someplace out in the multiverse where Francesco Totti and Zlatan teamed up for, like, 90 goals between 2012 and 2016. Sure, maybe they didn't win a Scudetto, but can you think of a better combination of passer and finisher than those two...fuckin’ hell, what a sight that would have been.

While Totti may have “retired” Zlatan is still lacing ‘em up, scoring 53 goals and chipping in 14 assists for the Los Angeles Galaxy since making the switch to MLS in March of 2018. And whether he's grown tired of that league or not we cannot say, but Zlatan is rumored to be eyeing a return to Italy, with none other than MLS commissioner Don Garber all but confirming talks between Zlatan and his former club, AC Milan, were underway—the initial reports indicated the deal was done, but that was chalked up to an inaccurate translation.

This story has been burning for about a week now, with the Milan links cooling off, leading some in Europe to speculate that the Galaxy are indeed the front-runners in the race for the 38-year-old Swedish striker.

Yahoo Sports expanded on this idea, offering their own rationale for Zlatan remaining in the states:

The report also notes that Napoli interest has cooled, while AC Milan (more on them later) and Manchester United have not made serious offers for the man with 456 career club goals and 173 assists between the Galaxy, Ajax, Man United, Juventus, Inter Milan, AC Milan, Barcelona, and Paris Saint-Germain.

Knowing the math, and that Zlatan has scored 53 times in 58 matches for United, you wonder whether he’s not hunting 500 club goals. He’s also a known trophy hunter. Both of those paths are markedly easier with the Galaxy than Bologna, and Ibrahimovic is already comfortable and locked in a fierce rivalry with Carlos Vela and LAFC.

I don't follow the MLS at all, but the few instances in which I have paid attention to the league usually revolved around the Zlatan-Vela rivalry. And who knows, perhaps Zlatan is driven by settling that score once and for all (Vela bested him for the scoring title), but the lure of Europe, of ending his career in a top league, could be the ultimate trump card.

And if that is indeed the case, right now it seems like a two-horse race between Milan and, surprisingly, Bologna, who the CdS claim are in constant contact with Ibrahimovic's entourage.

Bologna are a fine club and have a beautiful ground, but they're currently mired in 15th place with little hope of making any noise in Serie A. As for Milan, well, they're a bit better...14th place.

Considering all that, and if we assume Zlatan actually wants to leave LA, might Roma be a better option?

While it's true that Roma's loss to Parma dropped them to sixth place, they're only two points behind third place Lazio. What's more, Roma have a real and apparent need for a striker to compete with Edin Dzeko, who, while performing better than last season, has only scored two goals since the end of September.

Of course, when one thinks of Zlatan, one thinks of money. Ibra may be damn near 40, but with a $7.2 million salary, he was the highest paid player in MLS this past season. Assuming MLS reports gross salary figures like other American sports, Zlatan made roughly €6.5 million pre tax, which would be, what, €3.2ish million in Italian terms? That's certainly within Roma's wheelhouse.

Zlatan appears to have a desire to return to Europe, he fills an immediate need for Roma, he's within their usual budget, Roma has a good relationship with his agent Mino Raiola, and there are already radio reports fanning the flames.

The fates certainly seem to be conspiring to bring these two together, but don't go camping outside the airport just yet.