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Zlat's back? Why Ibrahimovic (not Lukaku) faces huge Man Utd dilemma

COMMENT: So why should he worry? If Jose does deal in Ibra, why is this such a bad thing for big Rom?

Jose Mourinho hasn't minced his words this past week. If Zlatan Ibrahimovic gets the okay from the medics at Manchester United, he will be handed a contract.

"Zlatan believes he can accomplish more and wants to play longer at the highest level," says the United manager, "so we're talking about the opportunity to stay because we want him to play with us in the second half of the season."

So there you go. It's confirmed. The big Swede will be offered terms as soon as Mourinho's medical staff give him the green light. Loved by his players. By his staff. And coming off the back of a 28-goal season. Of course Jose's going to deal him in. But where does that leave Romelu Lukaku...?

Well, from where we stand, it leaves him sitting pretty.

This isn't the United locker room Ibrahimovic entered 12 months ago. Nor is this the same team he swanned into. Lukaku won't be the one needing to adjust.

The Swede will rejoin United as one of the lowest paid players in the senior squad. He won't be the tallest. Not even the strongest. And there'll be no sacrificing the coveted No9 shirt from Lukaku. After PSG and last season's success, this will be all new territory for Ibra.

Lukaku has the shirt and the position. Mourinho won't gamble with form. It will be up to Ibrahimovic to take it from the Belgian. For the first time since that terrible year in Barcelona, the Swede will find himself with no guarantees.

Six years ago, Ibrahimovic left Barca slating Pep Guardiola, his character, his courage, and also taking aim at Lionel Messi. Part of a team many regard as the greatest we've seen, Ibra found himself in the support cast. And he didn't like it. Mino Raiola, Ibra's agent, wasn't much better. Indeed, the lack of business traded between the Catalans and Raiola has been blamed squarely at the fallout over the Zlatan experience. If Ibrahimovic finds himself spending the final year of a glorious career on the bench - or in the stands - can the pair of them keep their lip buttoned?

Mourinho won't be bothered. Just ask Iker Casillas or John Terry. If Lukaku carries on as he is, Ibrahimovic will have to make do playing second fiddle. The question is, will his personality allow it? Furthermore, will Raiola be able to do so without passing comment?

This isn't about Ibrahimovic's character. If there were problems there, Mourinho would never have bothered making Carrington's facilities available as he recovered from knee surgery. This is about professional pride and whether his ego can cope with being employed as a backup.

Ibrahimovic, fully fit, still has much to offer. And it makes sense for Mourinho to bring him in. From the manager's viewpoint, the more options the better.

The Swede remains hugely popular with everyone at United. His leadership. His example to the club's young players. Mourinho knows there's huge value keeping him around the club.

From management's side, it makes perfect sense. The concern, however, must be from Ibra's angle. Is he prepared for such a comedown?

It's been largely ignored, but the ease with which United have coped since his knee injury deserves greater recognition. United's success. Indeed, United's ability to even score, all appeared to hinge on Ibrahimovic. Yet, since his April break down, United have not only adjusted, but are a far better proposition. Winning the Europa League and qualifying for the Champions League proof how quickly things move at a club of this size. As Sir Alex says, United is a bus that waits for no-one - as Ibrahimovic has soon learned.

But this could simply be another dragon for Ibrahimovic to slay. Many said he wouldn't cope in the Premier League. That he was too old. His ego too big. Yet, he silenced them all last season.

For Zlatan, this could yet be another challenge to meet. Professional pride. Putting the team ahead of himself (remember those crazy goal bonuses?). When Mourinho offers that contract, these are things that must be examined.

And before pen is put to paper, it won't be Lukaku who'll be doing the heavy thinking.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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