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Is Zlatan Ibrahimovic coming back next year?

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Only Zlatan knows for sure.

MLS: MLS Cup Conference Semifinals-LA Galaxy at Los Angeles FC Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Last month when Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Dennis te Kloese agreed in a 45 minute meeting to postpone discussing the future until the season’s end, there was renewed optimism the big Swede might stick around another year. Despite the limitations of Zlatan’s presence on the pitch, Ibra bagged 30 goals for the club and his production soared after Cristian Pavon’s late arrival.

In the postgame media scrum following the loss to LAFC that ended the Galaxy’s playoff hopes, Zlatan was non-committal with the exception of a few non sequiturs.

In the grand scheme of things the contract expiration means nothing. The LA Galaxy are done for the year, and should Ibra decide to move on the club aren’t going to prevent him from doing so.

Then why cite his contract length? (This isn’t the first time he’s brought it up, btw) Currently the MLS Players Association and the club owners are hashing out a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. One of the major priorities? Charted flights. As a 38-year old who’s body took a heavy toll with all the travel, it wouldn’t be shocking if Ibra himself lobbied hard this offseason to help negate a competitive disadvantage for older players.

Ibrahimovic also prefers to keep the media on their toes. This doesn’t mean Zlatan is staying, though CBS’ Roger Gonzalez likely has the best take.

However his situation isn’t fundamentally all that different from the end of the 2018 season. Actually things have been simplified for the big Swede: In 2018 Ibra was demanding a big payday and the club was a dysfunctional mess. As Zlatan clarified Thursday night, money isn’t an issue. And despite the roster’s shortcomings, a significant number of bad contacts expire this winter. The talented Dennis te Kloese has the salary cap room to build a contender this offseason.

There are rumors Zlatan could be interested in a return to Serie A with Napoli, but moving to Italy poses several challenges and would likely represent a step backwards. Even when Ibra has expressed frustration with the league (Something he’s done plenty of), his words carry the perspective of a superstar bought into the league and invested in its growth.

Of course Ibra’s body can decide it’s time to call it quits and retire, a possibility that exists but only Zlatan knows for sure.

Exit interviews begin next week.