August 25, 2017
Manchester United announced the return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic on Thursday afternoon, something which we knew could happen, but still came out of the blue. The Swedish striker had a sad end to his season in April after suffering from what could have been a career-ending knee injury, which was not as bad as first feared. Ibrahimovic will wear United’s number ten shirt which was vacated by Wayne Rooney after he returned to boyhood club Everton on a free earlier in the summer. The Swede will severely strengthen United’s already strong attacking line, which seems to be full of confidence after two Premier League matches this season with new summer signing Romelu Lukaku scoring three goals; two against West Ham United and one against Swansea City.
Ibrahimovic retired from international duty following the European Championships held in France last summer and was capped 166 times. The striker scored 28 goals for United last season in 46 appearances, the goal-scoring rout ended with that knee injury against Anderlecht in the UEFA Europa League, a competition United won by beating Ajax 2-0 in Ibrahimovic’s native Sweden, which would have been a fitting end to his debut season at United, it was in a way, despite the player not playing in the match. In an interview with MUTV, which was reported by the official Manchester United website, Ibrahimovic said:
“When I come back to play football on the field I will be better than before. I am not coming back because I am the one I am, I am coming back to be a better version of the old one. Imagine how that will be!”
Speaking of his love for the city of Manchester and also his aims and ambitions for his second season at the Theatre of Dreams, the Swedish hero continued by saying:
“I am super happy. This was part of my plan, to stay with United. As soon as I’m ready I’ll be back wearing the red shirt and will continue what I was doing from last season.
“I’m motivated, I’m pumped and I look forward to the moment when I walk out at Old Trafford. Seeing the people standing up and when I score my goal that will be the moment I will enjoy most and what I look forward to.”
Jose Mourinho held his press conference ahead of the third Premier League match of the season with United entertaining Leicester City at Old Trafford on Saturday evening, Ibrahimovic was going to be a key factor with questions from the media. Ibrahimovic is about four months into his recovery from his knee injury, which has been suggested could see him out of the game for eight months. The manager confirmed that Ibrahimovic would not be ready for the group stages of the UEFA Champions League with United tasked with Benfica, Basel and CSKA Moscow, saying:
“He will not be ready for the group phase of the Champions League. I don’t think there will be any chance of that.
“Do we have space in the Champions League list to have him? Yes, we have, so we don’t need to leave any player outside the Champions League list. But I’m not thinking with Zlatan to play any part in the group phase. Hopefully, he can play in the knockout phase but, for that, we need to finish [in the] top two.”
When asked about Ibrahimovic’s realistic return, Mourinho was coy suggesting it was not something he was thinking about and it was more of a question for the club’s medical team to answer. Mourinho did say it would be the second part of the season before the Swede would be back in action, meaning he would be an addition from January onwards. Mourinho did say Ibrahimovic would be back when he was ready, which knowing how the player loves the game and wants to be part of the season in which United will be tasked with challenging for the Premier League title, he could strive to be ready much sooner than would be deemed realistically possible, Mourinho said:
“I don’t want to think about it. I don’t even ask, I don’t speak with him about it, I don’t speak with the medical team about it. I just think he will be an extra man for us in the second part of the season.
“When I say second part of the season, normally we say January, after Christmas, when the transfer window re-opens in January. But I have no idea at all and I think the right way is not even to think about it and just let him do his work, step by step and come back when he’s really ready.”
Mourinho also confirmed that he was delighted to secure the signing of Ibrahimovic for the second season at Manchester United. Despite being criticised for his misses last season, the goals he did score were welcome with no other player scoring so many for a good few seasons. The winning mentality of the player changed the dressing room, helping to facilitate what progressed into celebrations at the end of the season. United won the FA Community Shield at the start of the season, Ibrahimovic’s goal effectively winning the trophy and lifted the EFL Cup at the end of February, Ibrahimovic playing a part in that victory too. The victory in the Europa League was more for Ibrahimovic than something he won but having his presence in the stadium would have been a big factor for United. Mourinho concluded by saying:
“I’m really happy he’s with us because it shows me the dimension of the player and the dimension of the club. The dimension of the player because it would be very easy for him to say goodbye, to say it’s enough, one European competition, success at Manchester United, big injury, goodbye. He doesn’t do that.
“He wants to follow his other dreams and he wants to play football at the highest level, so it shows the dimension of character and personality of the player.
“And it shows the dimension of the club – a club like Manchester United, in my opinion, has to show how big it is in details and this is a big, big detail. A player that gets injured in a Manchester United shirt, fighting for Manchester United, the club has to be there for him and I’m really happy with both club and player.”
He may not see any action until January, maybe before, but the fact that Ibrahimovic will remain part of the Manchester United squad, adding his presence in training, possible in the stands during matches and more importantly his attitude to help instil on his teammates. United will be much better for it this season and it could help bring home title number twenty-one, which could be five years in the making since Sir Alex Ferguson retired and left United trying to carve out a new era at the top of English and European football. The latter may be something which required a bit more work and effort, but the former is well on the road to becoming a reality. This season will be very telling in where United are in their return to the top. Zlatan Ibrahimovic can be a strong figure in the dressing room, on the bench and even on the pitch which will facilitate that even more.