Jose Mourinho has noted that Zlatan Ibrahimovic will serve as his “extra man” in attack during the second half of the season after the Swede signed a new one year deal with Manchester United on Thursday.
The 35-year-old’s time at Old Trafford looked to have been brought to a cruel, abrupt end following a severe knee injury sustained against Anderlecht back in April that sidelined him for the 2016/17 campaign’s crescendo and led to his official release from the club in June.
But the forward, having claimed 28 goals during his debut season at United, revealed yesterday that he “came back to finish what I started” soon after officially signing another one year contract with Mourinho.
And the boss, contrary to some reports, implied in a press conference ahead of his side’s clash with Leicester City that Zlatan would not return to action before the new year, claiming that he would be used as an extra option going forward.
“He will not be ready for the group phase of the Champions League — I don’t think there is any chance of that,” he noted.
“Do we have space in the Champions League list to have him? Yes, so we don’t need to leave any player outside of the list, but I’m not thinking of Zlatan to play any part of the group phase.
“Hopefully he can play in the knockout phase, but for that we need to finish top two [in the group]. He will be an extra man for us in the second part of the season.
“When I say second part normally we say January after Christmas, when the transfer window reopens in January, but I have no idea at all and I think the right way is not even to think or speak about it and just let him do his work step by step and come back when he’s ready.”
No supporter, in spite of Zlatan’s brilliance, will want to see Mourinho deviate from the current attacking set-up that has swept aside both West Ham United and Swansea City with ease over the last two weeks.
And replacing Romelu Lukaku with Ibrahimovic would, of course, constitute a pretty considerable deviation from the current mould. The Portuguese has a plan for this season and it relies heavily on the Belgian leading the line with power and pace, placing emphasis on creating space in behind and blitzing opponents. He cannot abandon this under any circumstances.
That said, the alternative dynamic offered by Zlatan will be crucial. His sheer presence at the masthead of attack – while perhaps detrimental at times to the overall structure of the side – has a galvanising effect in itself. Even during a campaign hallmarked primarily by subpar displays and players adapting to Mourinho’s methods, he still found a way to score goals relentlessly.
Football will never see somebody like him ever again, and his return ahead of the ‘business end’ of the season could be pivotal.