Zlatan Ibrahimovic may only be a spectator at Wednesday’s Europa League final, but Manchester United colleague Ander Herrera expects the experienced Swede will still have a part to play in Stockholm.
The 35-year-old striker was back at United’s Aon Training Complex last week after going under the knife in America to repair the knee ligament damage he sustained during the Europa League quarter-finals.
That has ruled him out of a homecoming against former club Ajax at the Friends Arena, where a statue of the striker is due to be erected, though United boss Jose Mourinho has already confirmed Ibrahimovic and his fellow injured team-mates will travel to the contest regardless.
And for a United team lacking the continental pedigree of previous years, with Herrera, Antonio Valencia and Paul Pogba the only players in the XI that started against Celta Vigo to have featured in a previous European final, Herrera thinks Ibrahimovic’s vast experience could be a vital asset in his side’s biggest game of the term.
“I always say this is a team sport, we are a team,” declared Herrera.
“The reason we have won two titles (Community Shield and EFL Cup) this season is because everyone has been there, working, helping. This final is for everyone.
“Of course 11 players will be on the pitch but everyone is ready to help and push for their team-mates. So, if we win it, it will be for everyone. Everyone has been part of this.
“Zlatan and Ash (Young) have very good experience. We need everyone.
“When you want to win a European trophy and you want to make a good season, it is not only on the pitch, you need help from the outside. Zlatan is here to help, Ash is also here to help. We are a team who is together. Everyone is important.”
When Ibrahimovic suffered his injury at the end of last month, concerns arose over whether he would even play again due to the severity of the injury at his age.
Herrera stated at the time that he had no reservations about his return due to the forward’s supreme physical state and that view has not changed after seeing him post-op.
“He is with us, he is supporting us,” Herrera added.
“I think he is very good. He is optimistic. He is 100 per cent sure he will be back because he cannot stop winning. He cannot stop scoring. For sure he will be back at the best.”
None of Herrera, Valencia or Pogba ended up on the winning sides in their previous European finals and the former is driven by the disappointment he suffered at this stage five years ago.
Midfielder Herrera was playing for an Athletic Bilbao side that had beaten Sir Alex Ferguson’s United en route to an all-Spanish final they were to lose against Atletico Madrid.
“I have played in the final and it was very disappointing when Atletico Madrid beat us when I was with Athletic Bilbao,” he explained.
“Now I have the chance to win it. For the club, it is a massive competition right now.
“It is one game, one trophy. That is what will be in my mind. We are going to play for one European trophy that this club has never won. We can bring back a European title for the club which is very important. That is what this club is about.”