Manchester United and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have been dealt a severe blow amid fears the Swedish striker has ruptured the anterior and posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and could be out for up to nine months.
The news represents a huge set back to United’s Europa League and top-four hopes this season and plunges Ibrahimovic’s future at Old Trafford into serious doubt.
Ibrahimovic landed awkwardly on his right leg as he challenged for a header during stoppage time of Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final win against Anderlecht, locking his knee in the process.
United’s leading scorer with 28 goals this season, Ibrahimovic underwent assessment with the club’s medical staff on Friday and is braced for a long lay-off that, at 35, could even jeopardise his playing career. AC Milan, one of his former clubs, were quick to express their hopes on Friday that the player makes a swift recovery.
United – who were paired with Celta Vigo in the Europa League semi-final draw on Friday – have been in talks with Ibrahimovic about extending his £290,000 a week contract for another 12 months but the striker’s injury could dramatically change the picture.
If Ibrahimovic is ruled out until Christmas, United may have reservations about keeping the former Barcelona and Paris St-Germain forward beyond the end of this season when his current deal expires, unless they have already made a commitment to do so.
United were confident Ibrahimovic would stay but he had issued a series of non-committal answers when asked about his future in recent weeks and has been linked with a move to Major League Soccer in the US. Only this week he was questioning how much longer he would play for.
He has an offer on the table from Los Angeles Galaxy while rival Los Angeles FC, the new start-up franchise which joins the league from the 2018 campaign, was reported this week to want to sign the player with a view to even loaning him back to United for next season.
Ibrahimovic did imply that he was considering retirement when asked about his future by BT Sport this week. “I don’t know how long I have left,” he said. “Rashford, Lingard have long careers in front of them. I was there 15 years ago, I don’t know how long I have left.”
Ibrahimovic’s absence will place a huge onus on England striker Marcus Rashford over the remainder of the season and is another headache for manager Jose Mourinho, who admitted United are “in trouble” after also losing defender Marcos Rojo to a serious looking knee injury against Anderlecht. With Phil Jones and Chris Smalling already out, Mourinho has only one fit recognised centre-half in Eric Bailly available for Sunday’s trip to Burnley.
Mourinho is also on a collision course with England manager Gareth Southgate over the potential involvement of Rashford in the European Under-21 Championships this summer.
He does not want Rashford, whose stunning extra-time goal against Anderlecht on Thursday night set up the meeting with Celta Vigo, to go to the tournament in Poland in June and wants the players to have a complete rest during the close season after representing England at Euro 2016 in France last summer and a hectic schedule this season.
But Southgate said last month that he believes “the best thing” for Rashford’s development would be to play in the Under-21 tournament. Southgate said he planned to talk to Mourinho and it is understood there is ongoing dialogue between the Football Association and United but the situation could come to a head in the coming weeks.
Asked if it was unreasonable of the FA to expect Rashford to go, Mourinho said: “I just feel that when a player reaches a certain level, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to drop levels.
“It’s like now I am going to play [Rashford] in the under 23s, to win let’s say a derby against Man City? No. Nicky Butt [the reserve team manager] doesn’t pick him to play that game. He could by age but when you reach a certain level, and you reach that level for a long time, I don’t think it makes sense [to drop down] but the power is in their [the FA’s] hands.”