There’s absolutely no doubt about it: Zlatan Ibrahimović has been a revelation for Manchester United this season.
Signed on a free transfer last summer, the impact the 35-year-old striker would be able to have at such an advanced stage in his career was questioned by all and sundry.
However, as has become a habit for the former AC Milan and Barcelona star throughout his career, Ibrahimović has made his critics eat their words. And he’s done it in the only way he knows how – aside from a spinning back-kick to the temple – by scoring goal after goal after goal.
To be precise, he has found the net 26 times in 38 appearances in all competitons this term, the most recent of which being a match-winning brace against Southampton in the EFL Cup final at Wembley Stadium last weekend.
Yet, with less than three months of the season remaining, the towering Swede has not committed to extending his Old Trafford stay beyond the current campaign. When he joined United last summer, Ibrahimović signed a one-year deal with an option of a second year; that option has not yet been exercised.
Manager José Mourinho wants to keep his former Inter Milan charge by his side, and even jokingly implored United fans to turn up outside the player’s home to make their feelings known; Ibrahimović has been much more coy, though, keeping his cards close to his chest.
Reports earlier this weeks claimed that the Red Devils’ star striker is indeed willing to remain at the Theatre of Dreams, but he wants a two-year contract extension, not just one.
On the face of it, it feel like a no-brainer for United to reward Ibrahimović’s fine performances by bowing to his demands and hanging onto him for as long as he’s willing to stay.
The prolific No.9 is a very high earner, though, reportedly raking in around £250,000 per week. Committing to that level of outlay for a year longer than they had planned could become a stumbling block for United.
Right now, Ibrahimović is absolutely justifying his salary. However, over the next two years, as he moves into his late-30s, his first-team involvement will inevitably have to be tapered down. At 37, it would be nearly impossible for him to cope with the physical demands of playing 50-60 top-level games of football per season.
Would United want to be using up £12million of their annual wage budget on a player who, though undoubtedly gifted, would at some stage have to accept the reality of becoming a rotation option, rather than the first name on the team-sheet?
If any lessons have been learned from Wayne Rooney's current predicament, the powers that be at Old Trafford will be extremely reticent to allow Ibrahimović to be among their highest earners for another two years.
The United captain is a full four years younger than the Swede, but his decline has been so rapid that he can no longer be considered a serious contender to start any meaningful fixture for the side he once carried.
In 2013, when the first signs of the erosion of Rooney’s capabilities started to show, the club offered him a five-year, £300,000 per week contract for fear of losing their captain in the same summer that Sir Alex Ferguson ended his 26-year reign at Old Trafford.
Now, with Rooney still the club’s highest earner, they are faced with the obligation to continue to pay such an astronomical sum to a player whose importance to the team has waned greatly.
With an £85million bid for Atlético Madrid superstar Antoine Griezmann thought to be in their plans at the end of the season, United will be keen to move Rooney and his high wages on, but if the England captain decides to stay, there is little they can do about; he has a contract which he is perfectly entitled to see out.
So, to Ibrahimović: outstanding though he has been this season, at 35, another two years might be a financial risk that the usually-free-spending club is unwilling to take.