Jose Mourinho expects Zlatan Ibrahimovic to leave Manchester United at the end of the campaign.
The 36-year-old Swedish striker established himself as fans’ favourite at Old Trafford last season, with his self-confidence backed up by a 28-goal haul and numerous match-winning displays.
Ibrahimovic scored at Wembley in the EFL Cup and Community Shield successes, but serious knee ligament damage denied him a starring role as United won the Europa League triumph in his homeland.
However, Ibrahimovic has not featured since Boxing Day after suffering a knee complaint seven matches into his comeback and Mourinho now expects him to leave this summer as talk of a move to Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy rumbles on.
“For Zlatan, we all think it’s his last season at Manchester United,” the United boss said. “And it will be a very personal decision for him to play or to stop.
“I think he won the right of choosing his life, his future, such an amazing player with such an amazing career that only that awful injury in the wrong moment broke a fantastic couple of seasons that he could and should have had with us.
“This season has been really difficult for him. Is he injured? No, he’s not injured. Does he feel totally happy, totally ready and totally convinced that he’s in a condition to help the team? In this moment, no, but he’s such an honest guy and such a champion.
“He only wants to be back with that feeling of ‘I’m totally ready for it’, so he’s working hard and hopefully his evolution brings him to that level where he wants to have a positive answer.”
Ibrahimovic is sure to want a grandiose end to his time at United, who could also see Marouane Fellaini leave this summer.
A largely divisive figure after linking up with former Everton boss David Moyes in 2013, the imposing Belgium midfielder ignored the critics to establish himself as a key player under Mourinho.
But Fellaini has yet to repay that faith by signing a contract extension at Old Trafford, fuelling speculation that he will leave as a free agent in the summer.
“Fellaini is a different story (to Ibrahimovic),” Mourinho said of the Belgium midfielder, currently out of action with a knee complaint.
“He’s still a young player, his injury he had a little surgery (on) but a minor surgery and he will be back to play again in a couple of weeks.
“So, if we proceed in the Champions League after Sevilla, I think he will be ready for a hypothetical quarter-final, a hypothetical FA Cup semi-final, for the last couple of months of our Premier League fight.
“Is he going to stay or leave? I don’t know.
“I want him to stay, the club want him to stay. The process, the negotiations, the numbers, the distances between the offer and what he wants, I really don’t know.”
One positive of Fellaini’s absence is the emergence of academy graduate Scott McTominay.
The 21-year-old is hoping to make his fourth straight start in Monday’s Premier League trip to Crystal Palace, with his solid United displays attracting admiring glances from England and Scotland.
Mourinho said of uncapped McTominay. “My advice to him is not about national teams, it is not about that.
“My advice to him is to stay the way he is: very humble, very open to learn, intelligent, and to keep going in the same direction, same profile, trying to fight to have minutes with Manchester United, which is not easy.
“And then the national team will be just a consequence of his work at the club, but I can’t confirm at all that both national teams have contacted him because I don’t know.”