If this is goodbye to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, then the talismanic Swede will not soon be forgotten at Manchester United.
The totemic centre forward was present Friday on the Premier League released list. A damaging fall in April’s Europa League semi-finals caused cruciate knee-ligament damage which will likely sideline even a self-proclaimed “lion” until 2018, in the process putting paid to hopes of the option being triggered on the one-season deal agreed upon arrival last summer.
From scoring 28 goals in 46 appearances at an age – 35 – when most footballers have retired to the golf course, to providing one of the campaign’s most memorable terrace chants, Ibrahimovic lived up to the larger-than-life billing earned at Ajax, Juventus, Internazionale, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain.
When a maverick attitude and approach reminiscent of the iconic Eric Cantona is added in, plus his decisive brace during February’s EFL Cup final triumph against Southampton, it is clear to see why memories of Ibrahimovic will live long at Old Trafford no matter the short length of his stay.
Yet it would be incorrect to paint this scenario as an unquestionable negative for the Red Devils, no matter the Herculean powers of the man who will still be seen undergoing rehabilitation in the months ahead at their Carrington training complex.
His misfortune has opened up opportunity for the still-stuttering Premier League giants.
Ibrahimovic’s goal return was impressive, yet his lack of searing pace and uncontrollable movement led to deficiencies within the team as a whole.
His one – and likely – only term at United saw the club labour to their fewest Premier League victories (18) and most draws (15) – including 11 on home turf. Ibrahimovic was also one of only four players to reach double figures in all competitions, with Marcus Rashford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan trailing him by 17.
The possible introduction of the far more mobile Alvaro Morata will provide a fresh direction to the stodgy play of Jose Mourinho’s men, as he allies a solid frame with the flexibility to drift out wide – as seen at times in the Spanish capital and Juventus.
Defences will be dragged into areas that the Swedish striker couldn’t take them.
Ibrahimovic’s presence and desire will be missed. The same can’t truly be said about his play.
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