We explore the possibility and try to reason as to whether Manchester United should let Zlatan Ibrahimovic leave the club at the end of the season.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic – a name that resonates more than just an image; the Swede is a brand in himself. And his arrival at Manchester United, which was greeted with much skepticism by experts, has further established his image of an enigma; a player that is not limited by things like age.
The veteran took to the Premier League with aplomb and currently has a return of 15 league goals, 26 in all competitions, with 9 assists to his name. With a couple of months of the season still left, the striker is on course to touch the 20 mark in league and 30 in all competitions, at the very least.
— Full Time DEVILS (@FullTimeDEVILS) March 22, 2017
His return has silenced many doubters and he is on course to being perhaps the most influential part of the attacking setup at Old Trafford. However, the Swede’s deal is set to expire at the end of the current campaign, something Manchester United are reportedly keen to renew.
The contract, though, has a one-year extension option available, which, as per reports at various points in recent times, has been tipped for a renewal. The latest development, though, has iterated that the player is attracting interest from Major League Soccer, which has made Zlatan rethink on his stance of staying at United.
The Swede is now asking for pay parity with Paul Pogba and Wayne Rooney in order to stay at the club. While the club would not mind giving Zlatan what he wants, we at The Hard Tackle provide some arguments against it.
The over-reliance factor
Manchester United have suffered often for the trust shown in key members of the first-team setup.
Recent examples can be seen in the club’s struggle to replace Paul Scholes, under the tutelage of the great Sir Alex Ferguson. United struggled in the absence of the player so much that the Scot persuaded Scholes to come back from retirement in order to provide a short-term option.
Basically, Ferguson replaced Scholes with Scholes till he could find another player. Whether it was a planned course or by accident that Michael Carrick emerged as the one to boss the midfield in the same way as his English counterpart is still a question that is yet to be answered.
And, now, United has become over-reliant on Carrick, with the difference in win percentage when Carrick plays to when he doesn’t a clear parameter that proves the aforementioned. But Jose Mourinho seems to be taking the correct step towards correcting that over-reliance by slowly planning a replacement for the veteran.
Carrick’s contract, which also expires at the end of the season, has not been renewed yet and it is more than likely that Mourinho will delve into the market in the summer to replace the veteran in the starting eleven, even if he ends up offering Carrick an extension.
But, Zlatan’s case is a bit different. The Swede loves being the centre of attention and while Carrick will be more than happy contributing to the team’s cause as a squad player, Zlatan is unlikely to have the same thought.
Mourinho cannot, though, afford to play Zlatan as regularly as this season. The expectations this season were not too strong to begin with, after the Red Devils faithful had seen his side fail to challenge for the title in the last three seasons.
However, for a club of Manchester United’s stature to have a 35-year-old lead the attack is not just unprecedented but also highlights the lack of a quality player of a lower age at that position, something which Mourinho can correct in the summer transfer window.
The pay package and the want for an efficient attack
Zlatan, as per reports, is demanding pay parity with Paul Pogba and Wayne Rooney, who earn around £300,000 per-week. This is a thing that the Red Devils can afford easily, but should not do, for various reasons.
Jose Mourinho is already planning his overhaul in the summer. For Paul Pogba to receive wages in this bracket makes sense, for the Frenchman is both the present and future of the club.
The other player, Wayne Rooney, can be considered by many to be the past of the club, with the player all but set to exit the club in the summer. And even though the United captain may opt to stay, his involvement in the side has been greatly diminished under Mourinho.
Providing Zlatan Ibrahimovic with the same wages as Paul Pogba will not be in the best interest of the club because even though the Swede has bagged so many goals, he has been largely wasteful in front of the goal for the Red Devils.
The player will turn 36 in October and we have seen at previous times as to how big a difference a year makes as regards a player – a title-winning Manchester United team with a solid backline turned into a fragile defensive unit the very next season, with the back four ageing by another year.
Zlatan has already shown signs of not being at the same predatory level as he once was and despite his magnificent return in front of goal, the misses are likely to matter more next season. This season, the target has largely been top-4. But next season, United fans would not like anything less than a title challenge at the very least, if not a title triumph.
— OnlyGodCanJudgeMe (@fabolous3d) March 19, 2017
And when next season arrives, a wasteful Zlatan could see all the love slowly dissipating along with the wind at Old Trafford, especially when United bump his pay up to the level of Paul Pogba.
United cannot afford a Cantona in this age
Well, Eric Cantona himself admitted that Zlatan’s arrival at United brought back a sense of the King himself at Old Trafford. And, we all can see that. But, the question remains – in the present scenario, can United afford a player with a Cantona-like image and competitive streak at the club?
Eric Cantona was part of a United team that had talent in spades and had established himself as one of the favourites for the league every season. The reality for this squad, however, is different. With Zlatan providing the lion’s share of goals, United cannot simply afford for the Swede to miss matches due to sanctions.
One such example is the incident in the game against AFC Bournemouth, where the Swede elbowed Tyrone Mings, an incident that saw Zlatan being handed a 3-match ban by the FA.
— Ebuka Akara (@ebuka_akara) March 4, 2017
United suffered in the FA Cup match against Chelsea in the absence of Zlatan and while the Red Devils did eke out a 3-1 win at Middlesbrough, it was far from comfortable.
A character like Zlatan is always loved by the media and the fans for the bold portrayal but in the reality of the current footballing scenario surrounding Old Trafford, United cannot simply afford a player whose competitive streak ends up costing them.
The regular football factor
Zlatan’s arrival has been all cheerful for Manchester United. But, for some, it has not exactly been that positive. Mourinho’s insistence on using Zlatan upfront saw Rashford being pushed to the wings by the Portuguese, something which may have dwindled his confidence to an extent.
That Rashford is suffering from a crisis of confidence in front of goal was visible in his Middlesbrough performance. The player was at his usual best in terrorizing the defence through his direct runs but was unable to find the net, again.
The role of a winger is very different to a pure striker. As a striker, Rashford loves to play on the last man in defence and get behind the back four or three, as the case may be. As a winger, even though he can be as direct and take on defenders, he has more work to do and more players to beat in order to get a clean chance on goal.
The clean chance, too, is not a certainty, as most times the wide position means he is forced to pass inside or cross for someone else, something which, even though should be ingrained in a striker, should not become a habit.
Zlatan’s arrival has stagnated Rashford’s development as a pure striker and United stay in danger of letting another prodigious talent slip away, if they persist with the Swede for another year.
I’d love to know how many goals Rashford would have this season if Zlatan never signed..
— Charlie Carmichael (@CharlieJC93) March 13, 2017
Rashford is the undoubted future of Manchester United and the Red Devils faithful are unlikely to be silent for long, if the English international is played out of his position for a long period of time.
Along with the aforementioned reasons, the fact that Mourinho is looking to add a striker to the ranks in the summer will not be welcome by the fans, if that means pushing Rashford wide for the season and further down the pecking order for the role of a striker.
It is in the best interest of both Manchester United and Zlatan to part ways. The Swede can get the pay package he desires in the United States and could be a brand for the whole league, whichever MLS team he ends up joining. He will also be a regular at that place and an undisputed starter at that.
Zlatan loves to put on a show. And what better place for him than the United States. For United, though, it will give them a chance to further develop Rashford while also removing the over-reliance on a veteran of the game.