Zlatan Ibrahimovic should leave for the sake of Man United

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It was all going so well, wasn’t it? Zlatan Ibrahimovic was rattling in the goals at Old Trafford and it seemed certain that Manchester United would send another one-year contract in his direction. It’s fair to say that the Swede’s devastating knee injury in the Europa League has put a spanner in the works and a dampener over negotiations. However, United fans shouldn’t fear because, if anything, this end of season twist is a blessing in disguise.

Ibrahimovic has taken the Premier League by storm, there’s no use doubting it. The 35-year-old has accumulated 17 league goals this season in spite of United’s debilitating run of draws and ever-changing midfield supply line. It took mere weeks to dispel fears that he wouldn’t be able to adapt to English football and only Romelu Lukaku has noticeably eclipsed his goal tally. Moreover, his accumulation of eight assists exemplifies his positive impact on team mates.

Nevertheless, since being stretched off against Anderlecht, has United’s form greatly suffered? Certainly not. While it hasn’t exactly improved, to suggest that the absence of Ibrahimovic has derailed the club’s run-in would be far from accurate. After all, since the Swede’s injury, the Red Devils have garnered four wins and two draws. By contrast, the only two victories that came in Ibrahimovic’s last six appearance came against rock-bottom Sunderland and well, FC Rostov.

Above all though, the injury to Ibrahimovic has accommodated greater game time for Marcus Rashford. Having caught the Premier League completely off guard last season with his rise from obscurity, the 19-year-old was drip fed game time upon the arrival of Jose Mourinho. Rashford has rewarded his manager’s newfound trust with a return to goal scoring form and of a kind that more than implicates his capability of succeeding Ibrahimovic.

Just this week, the Englishman’s superb free-kick secured a gritty 1-0 win for United at Celta Vigo and has all but confirmed their place in the final. Furthermore, his big game impact was more than apparent against Chelsea when it took him just two minutes to gun down the table toppers. He proves a more athletic option in a largely ageing and slow Red Devils squad, with his pace and skill paving the way for a thriving relationship with Jesse Lingard.

With 11 strikes, he is the club’s second top scorer this season and with 20 of his appearances in 2016-17 coming from the bench, this achievement should not be underestimated. Therefore, the game time given to Rashford has not only proved that he isn’t a one-season wonder but a player who can thrive at Old Trafford when given the chance. All this and he is just 19-years-old, he could have as many as 15 years’ worth of effort, goals and assists to give to the club.

Renewing Ibrahimovic’s contract would prove a huge blow to Rashford, though, and would send him crashing back down to Earth having grasped his second chance with both hands. To be selected below a 35-year-old who is, essentially, a short-term blunt instrument would be a damning insult to his remarkable talent and rise.

Ibrahimovic is a special, special player but this season has demonstrated that his influence alone can’t win the Premier League title. As a result, United need to look to the future and mould their squad with not necessarily a long-term aim but with the vision of securing the title within two or three seasons. Given that Ibrahimovic could be out until February, it would prove an utterly backwards move to keep him and one that serves to refute ambition.

From a purely pragmatic point of view too, the Swede is a gargantuan drain on wages and his departure would free up potentially vital transfer funds. In addition, given his age, there is no reason to suggest he will return the same player after his knee surgery and lengthily period on the treatment table. Turning to him once again would demonstrate a shallow infatuation with a player who has been a superb, immediate influence but a brief painkiller at best.

Nevertheless, with The Sun reporting that Ibrahimovic is planning to take 50 members of United’s staff and squad for dinner at the end of the season, he may well have already played his last game in the famous red jersey. It will hurt the fans and it may prove a sting for morale, but it is in the best interests of United in the long-term and the incredible prospect that is Rashford. If the Red Devils haven’t totally abandoned their ethos, they will plump for the protégée.

Besides, if the rumours are true and Antoine Griezmann is headed to the Premier League, will Ibrahimovic’s departure be such a blow? It’s been a great season Zlatan but if the injury tells you anything, it’s go out on a high and let the next generation inherit the reins.

Kobe Tong, YJA Senior Correspondent