Galaxy reportedly close to record deal with Zlatan Ibrahimovic

The Galaxy may be nearing a deal with Swedish superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic that would make the former Manchester United striker the highest paid player in MLS history.

The team sidestepped questions about possible negotiations, saying only that “the LA Galaxy are always looking for players who can improve the team.” However, numerous stories out of England say Ibrahimovic, who is rehabbing a season-ending knee injury in Manchester, is close to accepting an offer from the Galaxy that one report said is worth more than $7.7 million.

The Galaxy said during the winter that they were preparing a record-breaking offer for a big-name player they declined to name, and have held open a designated-play roster spot to fit a lucrative deal under the MLS salary cap.

Orlando City’s Kaka, with a guaranteed salary of $7.168 million, is currently the highest-paid player in league history.

Ibrahimovic and his Italian-born agent, Mino Raiola, met Wednesday for a four-hour dinner at Tattu, a restaurant in Manchester’s city center, after which the player told photographers to expect a “huge announcement soon” regarding his playing future.

The Galaxy’s interest in Ibrahimovic first surfaced last summer when his contract at Paris Saint-Germain expired. But the player instead jumped on a free transfer to Manchester United, where he was united with former coach Jose Mourinho.

And Ibrahimovic had a stellar season, scoring 28 goals in 46 games before rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in a Europa League quarterfinal in April. Initial reports said Ibrahimovic would be sidelined until January, which is when MLS preseason training camps open. But there are indications his recovery could be ahead of schedule and he may be ready in time for the MLS playoffs.

There are other reasons why the timing for a Galaxy-Ibrahimovic deal may be right this time. Manchester United released Ibrahimovic last month, meaning the Galaxy won’t have to pay a transfer fee to sign him. Then the English Premier League club spent nearly $100 million earlier this month to replace Ibrahimovic with former Everton striker Romelu Lukaku, going so far as to give Lakaku the No. 9 jersey that had belonged to Ibrahimovic.

And with Ibrahimovic coming off major knee injury and turning 36 in October, interest in him has waned outside Manchester as well. He has been rehabbing at Manchester United’s Carrington training ground, which has led to rumors that he could return to the club. But privately, people around the team believe that’s unlikely, pointing to Ibrahimovic’s age and his declining play over the second half of last season.

For the Galaxy, signing Ibrahimovic now could also help counter the interest deep-pocketed expansion club LAFC is certain to generate when it enters MLS next season, playing it a state-of-the-art stadium in Exposition Park. In addition to what he brings on the field — where he has scored at least 30 goals five times in the last six seasons in all competitions — Ibrahimovic’s oversized ego and outspoken personality will draw attention off the field as well.

In a preseason survey of MLS player, ESPNfc said 22% of the 140 respondents said the foreign player they most wanted to join the league was Ibrahimovic, who outpolled Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Javier Hernandez.

"Ibrahimovic would be great entertainment," one player said. "He'd be on SportsCenter almost daily."

But there are risks for the Galaxy. Not only would be they investing a record sum in a player coming off of a major injury, but they’d also be getting someone who would be 36 before he would be healthy enough to play. And the Galaxy are still smarting from the signing of a 35-year-old Steven Gerrard two years ago.

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Twitter: @kbaxter11

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