Player Profile: Zlatan Ibrahimović, FORWARD, Man Utd

“I am back to finish what I started.” Zlatan’s opening words on Manchester United’s website were a statement of intent. Like a champion boxer announcing his return to the ring he has vowed to go out on his own terms. “I decide when it’s time to stop. No one else.” He has earned that right.

Ibrahimović is a serial winner. Since signing his first contract with Swedish side Malmö in 1996 he has lifted an astonishing 31 trophies in a career involving 8 clubs across 6 different countries. Just don’t expect him to be to be modest about it.

A desire to prove himself in the Premier League at the age of 34 was typical of a man whose appetite for success is unrelenting. 28 goals in all competitions for United showed his enormous self confidence wasn’t misplaced.

How sad then to see such a serious knee injury end his season prematurely and leave the self confessed Champion sat in the stands as the Red Devil’s lifted the Europa League in May. That he would be out until the New Year meant his stay in England was surely over, and perhaps his stay at the top level of football with it. A lucrative move to the MLS or China would be his swansong.

But Swedens record goalscorer had other ideas. Renowned for his physical strength and fitness he embarked on a punishing rehabilitation program. When videos recently emerged of him kickboxing the result seemed inevitable and his retort that “Lions don’t recover like humans” was classic Zlatan. The man was back and hungrier than ever.

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But what does all this mean to draft managers? His haul of 17 goals and 5 assists across 28 Premier League appearances would make him a first choice striker for many, especially in larger leagues. But factoring in his injury that will be almost impossible to replicate this season.

Conservative estimates predict his first appearance in a United shirt to come in December. Some time ahead of the original New Year prognosis but December 2nd brings with it Gameweek 15 and an away fixture at Arsenal. That would give a maximum of 24 games for Ibrahimović to score you points, and a wait of 11 Gameweeks on your bench if you picked him up off waivers after this weekend.

True to character the man himself has forewarned of an earlier return date. He is targeting the home match against Spurs on the 28th October which would be a remarkable turnaround even for such a committed trainer as he is. If he’s right that would be a return in Gameweek 10, “only” a 6 week wait on your bench and a possible 29 matches for him to play.

Either way this Man Utd are no longer Zlatan’s team. His place up front has been taken (along with the famous number 9 shirt) by Romelu Lukaku and the Belgian has plundered 3 goals in the opening 2 games this season. In fact United look a different beast entirely, playing with the attacking verve and pace so often lacking with Ibrahimović up top.

Whether the 2 can play together remains to be seen but the presence and form of Lukaku makes the returning hero a much larger fantasy risk. Can you afford to use a waiver on a player only to sit on him for a minimum of 6 Gameweeks when there is a serious chance he may only be used in rotation for his club on his return?

As ever it depends on your league and personal team circumstances. In smaller leagues of 6-8 players I would only pick up Zlatan if you are totally confident that your other 2 forwards can carry you over the next 2 months at least. Alternatively if you have a weak frontline and regularly set up with just one forward then he may be worth the risk to take a place on your bench.

Otherwise I would recommend holding fire and waiting for the end of the transfer window in a weeks time. Clubs are always likely to be on the look out for strikers and any last minute deals could be a better bet as a long term points scorer especially if the strikers in question would be guaranteed starters at their respective clubs.

Everton and Swansea are the most likely teams to bring in forwards this month, with Crystal Palace and Newcastle looking light in that position as well. Any signing for Everton would affect the fantasy value of Dominic Calvert-Lewin who has started the season well with 2 assists in 2 games and if rumours of Wilfried Bony returning to Swansea are true he would share attacking duties with Tammy Abraham and Fernando Llorente.

In larger leagues striking options are already at a premium and for these managers Ibrahimović is a much more positive proposition, with his potential upside worth gambling on if you are looking to to bolster a thin front 3. If he does indeed return in October then even a rotated Zlatan is going to score more points than the 25th-36th forward taken in the draft.

Personally I won’t be throwing my hat in the ring for Ibrahimović but good luck to you if you see him as a valuable option worth waiting for.

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