Zlatan Ibrahimovic is to be examined by an eminent knee specialist in the United States on Wednesday in a bid to save his career amid fears that he may have suffered multiple ligament damage and not just torn his anterior cruciate.
The Manchester United striker is flying to Pittsburgh to see surgeon Dr Freddie H Fu who is an expert in dealing with injuries sustained by American football players and has performed more than 6,000 knee operations.
Nevertheless Dr Fu represents an unusual, somewhat ‘left-field’ choice for a footballer but it is understood that he was recommended to Ibrahimovic after United consulted with the medical department of his former club AC Milan at the striker’s behest.
Usually, since the retirement of Colarado-based Dr Richard Steadman, who built a reputation as the ‘go to’ surgeon for footballers suffering knee injuries, players have seen European-based surgeons but Ibrahimovic wants to explore every option and is not taking any chances on his future.
Interestingly Dr Fu specialises in a technique known as the ‘double-bundle’ which effectively means tying a double-knot in stabilising the damaged knee to ensure that it is even stronger.
The fear for Ibrahimovic is that he may have suffered posterior ligament and medial ligament as well as cruciate ligament damage to his knee during United’s Europa League tie at home to Anderlecht last Thursday.
That would complicate his treatment with the expectation that if he can recover he is unlikely to play again for another nine months. Ibrahimovic has targeted a January return although ot is only once he is properly assessed by Dr Fu that a course of action can be decided upon. Ibrahimovic is not expected to go under the knife this week. Indeed it may well be that surgery is held off for another couple of weeks while the knee is examined and some initial rehab takes place.
As with Everton’s Yannick Bolasie who suffered an ACL and also tore his meniscus, Ibrahimovic may have to undergo more than one operation as part of his recovery.
The significant question for Ibrahimovic is whether he can then regain the mobility required to continue his playing career. At 35 there has to be some doubt, with how he approaches the rehab the key, although such is his ferocious work ethic and desire to succeed that the striker is expected to play again.
On Sunday Ibrahimovic took to Instagram, after reports that it was feared his career was over, and vowed to “come back even stronger” from the injury he sustained in the Europa League tie at home to Anderlecht last Thursday.
“I will go through this like everything else and come back even stronger,” he wrote. “So far I played with one leg so it shouldn’t be any problem. One thing is for sure, I decide when it’s time to stop and nothing else. Giving up is not an option. See you soon.” It is understood that Ibrahimovic has taken control of how he will be treated for the injury.
Dr Fu, chairman of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, has vast experience in treating sportsmen and most particularly American football players and athletes. One reason why Ibrahimovic, who is 6ft 5in, may have turned to Dr Fu is because he is more used to dealing with ‘big’ and powerful sportsmen.
It will also be interesting to see how United manage the situation given Ibrahimovic has not yet agreed to the proposed 12-month extension to his contract which currently runs out at the end of this season.
Ibrahimovic’s United team-mate Ander Herrera is convinced he will play again. “Of course he can,” the midfielder say while also voicing sympathy for team-mate Marcos Rojo who suffered a similar injury against Anderlecht. “First, because he is privileged physically. His physique, his body is one of the best I have ever seen so I think it will be easier for him to get back than others.
“But, of course, he is 35, he will have to work very, very hard, be very patient. But I have no doubt he will be back because he loves football, he loves to win, he loves to score goals.
“He loves to train every day. Every day he wants to win, every box, ever game of football tennis, everything in training, so I have no doubt he will be back. But everyone, we have to be supporting them – not only Zlatan but also Marcos because they are really bad moments for them.”
There was some good news for United on the injury front with Juan Mata, who has been sidelined for three and a half weeks after undergoing hernia surgery, writing in his blog, One Hour Behind, that he hoped to be fit for the Europa League semi-final away to Celta Viga a week on Thursday or the trip to Arsenal three days later.