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Zlatan Ibrahimović

'Man Utd's success revolves around him' - Gary Neville wants long Ibrahimovic stay

10:27 SAST 2017/03/16
The 35-year-old striker is tied to the club until the end of the current campaign, but the former right-back believes he will be useful for longer

Former Manchester United captain Gary Neville says he would offer Zlatan Ibrahimovic a two-year contract extension to remain at Old Trafford as the star continues to defy his age and critics.

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Ibrahimovic, who turns 36 in October, has shown age is just a number by scoring 26 goals in all competitions since arriving from French champions Paris Saint-Germain - well ahead of second top scorer Juan Mata on nine.

The Swede, whose contract expires at the end of the season though he it includes an option for a second term, has netted 15 Premier League goals to emphatically dismiss doubts over his ability to cope with the demands in England. However, he is no certainty to remain in Manchester next season as he is yet to extend his contract amid reports LA Galaxy are ready to make him the highest paid player in MLS history.

There is speculation Ibrahimovic is holding out for a two-year contract from United's hierarchy, but Neville would accept his demands, with his workload the only issue, having been an ever-present in Jose Mourinho's starting XI this term.

Speaking exclusively to Omnisport, Neville was asked whether he would give Ibrahimovic a two-year deal and the former full-back responded: "I'd say yes. Because of the professionalism, the training and his commitment to the club.

"I think United needed personalities and characters after what happened in the previous few seasons. A lot of United's success has revolved around him.

"It will be impossible for him to play every single match in that period. There has to be a dip at some point. Ultimately, it's how Mourinho manages him over a two-year period because he wants to play every match.

"The reality is, I'm not quite sure that will be able to happen as he continues to get a little bit older."

Ibrahimovic's presence has forced Marcus Rashford to take a back seat at United following his sensational breakout campaign under Louis van Gaal last season.

Rashford scored two goals in each of his Europa League, Premier League and international debuts, ending the season with eight goals in 18 appearances in all competitions. While the 19-year-old has seven this term, he has found minutes hard to come by under Mourinho, who has preferred the experience and physicality of Ibrahimovic up front.

But with Ibrahimovic set to serve the final two matches of a three-game ban against Middlesbrough and West Brom in the Premier League for elbowing Bournemouth's Tyrone Mings, Neville believes it is a perfect opportunity for Rashford to prove his quality, having impressed in the 1-0 FA Cup quarter-final loss at Chelsea.

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Discussing the positives and negatives of Rashford's reduced game time in 2016-17, eight-time Premier League winner Neville said: "He is not getting overplayed, he is able to learn at a more calm pace.

"The bad is that at times maybe his form hasn't been as good as it was last season. He needs to reproduce that standard he set last season.

"There's potentially always going to be a fall in a young player. There is going to be ups and downs and inconsistency. Maybe now, he has a chance to show what he is. He can have confidence knowing he will play.

"It's good that they're not relying upon him in every single game, but in some ways he needs to stand up and take the opportunity."