Ander Herrera has “no doubt” Zlatan Ibrahimovic will recover from a knee injury so serious that some have suggested it could force the Manchester United striker into retirement.
The outspoken 35-year-old has made quite the impression since arriving at Old Trafford last summer, scoring the Wembley winners in both the Community Shield and EFL Cup final.
Ibrahimovic recently likened himself to Benjamin Button, the fictional character who ages backwards, after his 28th goal of the season – but now there are concerns time is against him.
The striker sustained significant knee ligament damage in Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final win against Anderlecht and figures at United reportedly fear he may never play again.
Ibrahimovic says “giving up is not an option” and vowed to come back even stronger on Sunday evening – the kind of reaction United team-mate Herrera expected.
“Of course he can (get back),” Herrera said without hesitation.
“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, every football tennis, everything in training, so I have no doubt he will be back.
“But we have to be, everyone, supporting them – not only Zlatan also Marcos because they are really bad moments for them.”
A cruel twist of fate saw United team-mate Marcos Rojo sustain knee ligament damage in the same game as Ibrahimovic.
The exact prognosis and timescales have yet to be made official, but the severity of the knee injuries saw United’s players warm up in kit displaying their names at Burnley.
“I am happy that we could dedicate this victory to Ibra and Marcos,” Herrera said after a 2-0 win secured by Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney goals. “They are now having bad moments.
“Ibra because he is 35 and has won everything and played at the highest level for 15 or 16 years and now it is the first time he gets a really bad injury and so we are really sad for him.
“For Marcos, only because he was in the best moment of his career. He was very focused on what he was doing.
“For me, at the moment he was one of the best centre-backs in the world.
“Very difficult to beat him, every duel he won, every tackle he won.
“He has to know that he can be back as good as he was.
“He is my friend and I will try to be very, very close to him to support him and help him.”
The duo’s absence will be keenly felt as United continue to push for Europa League glory and a top-four finish, but did not impact Jose Mourinho’s men at Burnley.
A string of changes did not throw United off kilter at Turf Moor, where those brought in stepped up to the mark to close the gap on fourth-placed Manchester City to a point ahead of Thursday’s derby.
“It is very important that not only the strikers who are playing more minutes to score but everyone who plays has to give some goals,” Herrera said of Martial and Rooney.
“They did it fantastic today. It was the first game Anthony has played as striker this season and he was fantastic.
“He held the ball up, he gave solutions for the team and scored a fantastic goal.
“Same as Wazza and Martial, Daley (Blind) was not playing every game but he was fantastic today.
“He is not the tallest, he is not the strongest but he is one of the smartest I have ever played with. He gives us a lot of things.”