Zlatan Ibrahimovic remains on course to return for Manchester United “next year”, according to Andy Cole, who considers the Swede to be “legendary”.
The enigmatic 36-year-old striker has been out of action since April, when he suffered knee ligament damage in a Europa League clash with Anderlecht.
He was forced under the knife after suffering an untimely injury, with a long rehabilitation process bringing him back to this point.
His hard work has impressed United enough to earn him a new short-term contract, with it suggested that he could be back in contention for Jose Mourinho at some point before the end of 2017.
Cole, though, believes a comeback will be held until the New Year.
The former Red Devils striker, who recently spent time with Ibrahimovic in the gym, told The Sun on the progress being made by the experienced frontman: “Really good. Back next year, I think, so he’s done well really.
“He’ll get games because he’s got so much quality. And he’s brilliant in the dressing room. I love Zlatan. He tells you how it is. He’s legendary.”
Ibrahimovic was United’s go-to striker in 2016-17, but they have since invested £75 million in Romelu Lukaku.
The Belgian has hit the ground running, netting seven times in seven league games to help Mourinho’s side make an unbeaten start.
Cole believes the 24-year-old will be given time in which to enhance his game even further, but has also warned that he is now at a club where he can be easily replaced if his form drops off.
The 1999 Treble winner said on the pressure of being a goal-getter at United: “I had to keep United at the top. Now Romelu has to get them there but that buys you a bit of time.
"If I didn’t cut it, I’d be on the bench. Mind you, if Romelu doesn’t, United can go out and buy a new striker."
Pressed on whether he is surprised at the impact made by Lukaku, Cole added: "No. He’d done it in the Premier League for the past five seasons. He was always going to score goals."
Lukaku will be looking to add to his impressive haul on Saturday when United return to action with a trip to Liverpool.
He did nurse a knock during the international break, but was able to figure for Belgium in their final 2018 World Cup qualifier and is considered to be ready for domestic duty at Anfield.