Saturday 3 March 2018

Zlat's your lot: Ibra looks set to leave United

United manager Jose Mourinho appeared to confirm the end of Zlatan's Old Trafford career. Jose said that the club expect the Swede to leave, with Ibra having only made seven appearances this season, the last of which came in the draw with Burnley on Boxing Day.

Having seen his initial one season stint at United cut short prematurely through injury, the Swede was released by the club but then re-signed by the Reds in August. He returned to action in November ahead of schedule but things didn't go to plan. He's made only six appearances since, the last of which came in the Boxing Day draw with Burnley. 

Jose said that the striker's recent absence is down to a lack of fitness, rather than a recurrence injury. It was always going to be hard for him this season,  with the pace of our forward line bolstered by the additions of Romelu Lukaku in the summer and the January swoop for Alexis Sanchez. That's before you factor in the form of Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial, so opportunities for Ibra to hold down a first team place have looked limited from the outset.

Having played under Jose during their time together at Inter, Ibra was reunited with his former boss for a first taste of English football. He arrived on a free transfer from PSG, at 35 years of age, with doubts surrounding his ability to adapt to the pace and relentless nature of the Premier League.

So how will his brief United career be judged and looked back upon?
Ultimately, he lived up to those expectations that were on his shoulders upon arrival and arguably exceeded them. In Jose's transitional settling-in season, the Swede ended the campaign as top scorer with 28 goals in 46 appearances. If not for that cruel ligament injury - sustained in the Europe League quarter-final tie with Anderlecht - he would have reached the rare landmark of 30 goals in a season - a feat that only Robin van Persie, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo have managed in the Premier League era. The injury also robbed him of a fairytale denouement in his home city as United - without him - won that tournament for the first time with victory over Ajax in the Stockholm final, our 64th game of a gruelling and mammoth season.

Yet Ibra was so much more that just a veteran centre-forward. He injected fear back into the Reds attack, and carried an aura and arrogance about him that we've not had since Cantona. A talismanic figurehead in the mould of the enigmatic Frenchman, his personality and influence rubbed off on the younger members of the squad and his man of the match performance in an EFL Cup final United were fortunate not to lose typified his penchant for the big occasion.

His future remains unclear, but having been linked with a big-money move to MLS in the summer, an American club look set to be his final destination before he calls time on his decorated career. Thanks for the memories, Zlatan, it was certainly fun while it lasted.

On a free from PSG, he cost us f-g zero!

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