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Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Stick or twist?

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With United’s campaign now concluded with Champions League qualification, important decisions will be made towards reshaping the squad, including the future of striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

2016/17 Europa League Champions Manchester United (felt good spelling that out for sake of it) will go into the upcoming transfer window knowing that qualification for the Champions League will have a major bearing on the Club’s summer transfer business. On the back of a campaign where the red devils claimed two major trophies and most significantly now offer UCL football under Mourinho, Ed woodward’s job just got a whole lot easier – so much so reported target Antoine Griezmann’s arrival looks more imminent now than at any point in the past. Aside purchases, there are expected player departures – with the futures of a few of United’s stars still clouded in uncertainty.

The future of prolific Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic in particular remains unresolved. The striker’s injury is expected to see him sidelined till the new year and is yet to commit to another season in Manchester. It also remains to be seen how quickly his recuperation and return to form will take considering his age. United are also reportedly now reconsidering the merits of offering the player another expensive contract which he would be fit enough to honor only a fraction of. In all likelihood the swede will miss United’s entire group stage of the UCL. With United’s forwards struggling to score consistently in the Swedes absence, Jose is said to have included a center-forward to his summer transfer plans.

It is surprising that United would allow the Swede’s injury dictate the need for another striker in light of the recent scoring issues, even with the former PSG man – having to rely heavily on his goals or customary moment of brilliance. Coupled with the striker turning 36 in October, and perhaps going into his last season of top football, United’s need is immediate. Especially with Rooney’s expected departure and the lack of experience of youngsters Martial and Rashford. Should Wayne Rooney remain at United (per Jose), not too many will hold their breath on the captain regaining his prolific output. Martial and Rashford have stood in admirably, but United now need a proven goalscorer to lead the line consistently.

In the same vein, United’s position on Zlatan shouldn’t be dictated by injury, or the arrival of another striker. The striker was integral to the Club’s success under Jose, as the manager was keen to point out after the Europa final. Sidelined or not, Jose can profit from the Swede’s influence on the club’s younger stars, especially with the expected departure of a few senior players (Rooney, Smalling and Young). The Swedish striker’s experience will likely aid Rashford and Martial’s development in particular, as the young English forward explained earlier in the season. United are no strangers to standing by injured Scandinavia strikers in their later years – with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer being injury-plagued before retiring at OT – so should retain the Swede.

Expected departures (including Rooney’s) will ease the financial strain of retaining the Swede in additional to potential arrivals. United are a Club that can easily afford Zlatan’s weekly wages, but renegotiating suitable terms is another option that can be considered. The former Barcelona, Juventus, AC Milan, International, PSG and Ajax striker already reportedly refused to be paid while injured – indicating he may be open to suggested renegotiation. Finances should not come between Manchester United and Zlatan. It is suggested that he could remain at United during his rehabilitation with the Club having offered its facilities, and that may be a step in the right direction – though not a decisive one.

As a free agent, the much traveled striker can sign for other clubs leaving United as the only losers in that scenario. While there are no guarantees Zlatan will play any significant role on the pitch during the upcoming campaign, his impact behind the scenes may prove to be equally as important to United. United’s major focus should be acquiring a new No.9 (which Griezmann isn’t) like Lukaku, but extending Zlatan’s stay should be given equal priority for footballing reasons, as well as sentimental ones. Having the enigmatic player has certainly improved United’s profile post-Ferguson. Zlatan has become a symbol of the Club’s resurgence and fans will certainly look forward to seeing their talismanic striker back in United’s colours.

VERDICT: STICK

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