Zlatan is back. And truthfully, he needs no re-introduction.
Three months after declining an option to extend his previous contract, Manchester United re-signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic to a one-year deal on Thursday. The club also announced the big Swede will wear the No. 10 shirt upon his return.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 24, 2017
That return will have to wait a bit. Ibrahimovic is still recovering from a serious knee injury suffered in a Europa League quarterfinal against Anderlecht this past April. But he could be back on the field by the end of the calendar year, and will give United an ideal Plan B behind Romelu Lukaku up front once he is.
“We are delighted Zlatan is on the road to recovery and we are equally delighted to have his ambition and experience back with us,” manager Jose Mourinho said in the club’s official release. “After his contribution last season he deserves our trust and we will be patient waiting for him to return. I have no doubt that he will be important in the second part of the season.”
Before the injury, Ibrahimovic netted 28 goals in 46 appearances in all competitions in his first season at United. He had joined on a free transfer from PSG the previous summer. He didn’t quite live up to lofty, top-10-player-in-world expectations in year one, but the production spoke for itself.
Ibrahimovic underwent surgery in the United States after the ligament injury, but was allowed to complete portions of his rehab at United’s facilities. The injury prompted the club to release Ibrahimovic rather than extending his contract in June, but there was always the possibility he would return to Old Trafford pending his recovery. That recovery appears to be going to plan.
But the 35-year-old Swedish striker won’t be rushed back, in part because there’s no immediate need. There’s no hole in United’s attack that desperately needs filling. Lukaku has tallied three times in his first two Premier League outings, and United’s eight goals top the league after two weeks.
Lukaku should still be United’s main man up top, but Ibrahimvoic will be the ultimate supersub or change-of-pace option for Mourinho. Lukaku is outstanding in an open game, can play on the break, and can be adequate in tight quarters. Sometimes. But when space is limited, Ibrahimovic could be called upon to unlock a taught defense.
Whether Ibrahimovic accepts such a role is another story. And it would become a story if he and his mercurial personality don’t quite come to terms with being a secondary choice. He has been a big-game player his entire career. What happens when he’s left on the bench for multiple Champions League knockout round games? That is the only downside as far as United is concerned.
The upside, though, is far more significant. Ibrahimovic’s return could coincide with the busiest part of England’s soccer calendar, the holiday period. And if that return is at close to full strength, Ibrahimovic could be a crucial figure in United’s hunt for trophies. Mourinho and the club have European ambitions as well as Premier league dreams. At the very least, having a second world-class striker in the fold shouldn’t be a hinderance.
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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.