ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC is £70 million worse off for snubbing China to make the move to America, yet you would struggle to find a happier footballer.
Ibrahimovic has been one of the biggest stars of the millennium, truly one of the icons of a generation having proven himself in some of Europe’s biggest leagues.
Only the Bundesliga has missed out on being graced by the talismanic Swede whose outrageous talent has been matched equally by his own ego.
Now it is the turn of Major League Soccer to experience Zlatan’s world, having decided to call time early on his contract at Manchester United to seal a move to LA Galaxy.
At 36, there are plenty suggesting the move to Hollywood is the last big pay-day of his career – coining it in Stateside as he winds down to retirement.
How wrong they are. For if it was down to the money, the ex-Barcelona, Inter and PSG star could have happily stayed on at Old Trafford until June before joining the growing ranks trying their luck in the Far East.
There was a package worth a staggering £71m-a-year on offer to make the move to the Chinese Super League, where he needed to stay for 12 months helping to promote one of the world’s biggest emerging leagues.
But for Zlatan, this stage of his career is not about money. It’s about his happiness at just enjoying the game of football again having bounced back from the kind of knee ligament injury that has ended other people’s careers. His Galaxy deal is only thought to be worth £1m for the year.
Ibrahimovic said: “It’s not about the money because I didn’t even know the contract I had here. I just said ‘prepare, I’m coming’. I think even the Galaxy was surprised.
“After my injury, I just want to be happy, push it every time I put on football boots, smell the grass, touch the ball, and do what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years. Trust me, that has no price.
“I’ll just enjoy, play and feel on the grass. That’s really what it’s all about. After the injury, I’m only grateful that I can play football.”
There may be a smile on his face at the moment, and having scored a breath-taking match-winning goal on his Galaxy debut it is easy to understand why, but the inner drive is still burning deep.
Everywhere he has gone he has been a success, driven his team forward to better things. America and the Galaxy is no exception for him.
He added: “This is a big challenge for me. I want to come over here to the U.S. and show everybody what I’m able to do.
“I came to win, I want to bring trophies to Galaxy and I want to be part of the history, one of the guys that made a difference.
“I've played with the best clubs and players in the world, and we won. I will not do anything differently in LA.
"The day they tell me it's not good enough, I will take my contract and give it back, and I will go. I'm here in the same situation as everybody else. I didn't come for a vacation.
"It's been a couple of years now, I've been looking at MLS and have been curious. How is the football? How good can it be?
“We have been here in the pre-season with the clubs from Europe, and met some teams, but it is not at the competition level. You come here, you are curious, you want to test it. And in this mode of career, it feels good.
“It feels really good, it fits me perfectly when it’s not so intense with matches and you can handle it and check it in a better way. Then you want to contribute something you want to help, do it better.
“And then win. Especially win. Can I win here? I’ve done it everywhere.”
Ibrahimovic retired from international football in 2016, with an eye on prolonging his career without the distraction of representing the country which has treated him as a hero throughout his career.
The respect and service he gave Sweden was huge, and the constant attention and adulation brought pressures of their own, so few could criticise him when he decided enough was enough.
However, there is now a glint in his eye when Russia 2018 is mentioned, with a growing clamour for him to come back out of retirement to play a part one last time for Sweden at the World Cup.
Ibrahimovic is open to the possibility, although there is an extra hurdle to cross in that a recent partnership with a betting company risks potentially flouting Fifa player regulations.
Not that it really matters to the forward, whose response is to put Fifa firmly in their place and insist only he will decide if Zlatan will grace the World Cup again.
He said: “FIFA can’t stop me. If I want to be there, I’ll be there.
“Just as with the national team, if I want to play, I’ll play.
“This is not a question for FIFA, it’s a question for me and what I want. The door is open, and not closed.
“If everything feels as it should and I feel that I can do the things I am capable of and want to do, as I’ve always done them, then we can talk about it.
“But that’s not where we are at right now. We’re in a position where I’m just happy that I can play.”
“Now I want to play football, so let’s play football. And when we play football we will see if we can play football in the World Cup.”