Strike duo's future not set in stone

Mourinho wants United, fresh from their League Cup exploits, to not take Bournemouth lightly

LONDON • Growing uncertainty over the futures of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney threatens to overshadow Manchester United's all-important quest to return to the Champions League.

Ibrahimovic has been a huge success in his first season in England yet recent comments have cast doubt over a second.

The Swede's 26th goal for United was the winner as they beat Southampton 3-2 last Sunday to secure the League Cup, their first major trophy under manager Jose Mourinho.

But asked if he would trigger the 12-month extension option in his one-year contract, he said: "We have another two months of the season to go. Let's see how I feel, the situation.

"Somebody made up a story that if we don't qualify for the Champions League, I will not extend. It has nothing to do with that."

The 35-year-old has played his part in a very good spell in the Cup competitions for United since their last league fixture on Feb 11.

His hat-trick saw off Saint-Etienne in the Europa League last-32 and nabbed the winner against Blackburn in the FA Cup fifth round .

A mystery fan even offered Russian side Rostov a bribe of nearly US$3,000 (S$4,239) to allow his son to lead the Swede onto the pitch as a mascot in next Thursday's Europa League last-16 first-leg clash.

"Yesterday a man called the club and offered 170,000 rubles for his son to lead out Ibrahimovic," Rostov spokesman Ivan Bodylevsky said, before adding that the club had never accepted money in exchange for a child to be a mascot.

In contrast, Rooney has played no part for United for the last month, firstly as a result of injury and then because he needed root canal treatment for a dental issue.

The captain has become an increasingly peripheral figure at Old Trafford and is understood to be considering a return to ex-club Everton, whose manager Ronald Koeman admitted on Tuesday that he was interested in his signature.

United, unbeaten in the Premier League since October, are guaranteed to climb from sixth place with a win against Bournemouth at home today because the two teams directly above them - Liverpool and Arsenal - will play each other.

In his pre-match conference yesterday, Mourinho urged his team to take advantage of that but warned that Bournemouth are not an easy team to beat.

"We know Liverpool play Arsenal and you know for sure somebody is going to lose points. But they (Bournemouth) are a very tricky team, a dangerous team that normally tries to win matches and not to draw," Mourinho said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 04, 2017, with the headline 'Strike duo's future not set in stone'. Print Edition | Subscribe