English Premier League

Zlatan is almighty – but even I worried Ibrahimovic returned too soon, admits Hong Kong surgeon who saved striker’s career

With Zlatan moving on to pastures new, Dr Freddie Fu opens up on the former Manchester United striker’s quick comeback from a serious knee injury

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 March, 2018, 6:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 March, 2018, 3:57pm

The Hong Kong surgeon who saved Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s career has revealed he initially feared the striker returned from injury too soon.

Ibrahimovic joined Major League Soccer side Los Angeles Galaxy last week, after Manchester United agreed to release him early from his contract.

The 36-year-old returned to action in November, just seven months after a serious knee ligament injury, but made only seven appearances for Jose Mourinho’s side, scoring one goal, and hadn’t featured since Boxing Day.

“He had a major injury, it took a lot of time to heal and I think he did real well in his rehab but we discussed what time he should return, he picked a little bit sooner – I was worried about it myself,” said Dr Freddie Fu Ho-keung in a phone interview from the United States.

“He is back in seven months which is really very fast. My opinion is he should stay a little longer, it did set him back a little, because he was so aggressive.

“But the last two months he’s in good shape, ready to go. Right now, he could have played in the Premier League if he wanted to.”

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The prolific Swede, signed on a one-year deal for free in 2016, quickly became a fan favourite at Old Trafford and scored 28 goals before his debut season was cut short by the injury in a Europa League tie against Anderlecht.

The former Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain striker re-signed for the English Premier League giants for another year in August, impressing United’s medical team with his unusually quick recovery.

“I said to Zlatan, ‘Why don’t you wait a few more months to come back?’ I personally would like to see nine months as a doctor,” said Fu, who was born and raised in Hong Kong and now chairs the department of orthopaedic surgery at the world-renowned University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre, where he operated on Ibrahimovic last year.

“But there’s a balance between the player, the team, the coach – everybody is different. For Zlatan, he is like this almighty player too, you know?

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“So it’s very hard to tell. I have done [surgery on] many athletes on different levels, some come back faster, some don’t.

“Zlatan tried everything. It wasn’t an injury that stopped him, just physically he was not quite 100 per cent ready for that high level – the Premier League is the top level in world, if you’re not ready it’s tough.”

Ibrahimovic made his return as a substitute in a 4-1 Premier League win at home against Newcastle on November 18, before again coming off the bench in a 1-0 defeat by Basel in the Champions League four days later.

He played five more games in 2017, including the League Cup quarter-final loss to Bristol City where he scored a free-kick.

‘I’ll always belong to Hong Kong’ says Freddie Fu, the surgeon who saved Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s career

He made his first Premier League start of the season in a 2-2 draw against Burnley, but was replaced at half-time with United trailing by two goals and failed to make another appearance amid concerns he had re-injured his knee.

“He’s really had no injuries – he just pushed himself so hard,” said Fu, who was in constant contact with United’s medical team this season. “Just more aches and pains, but everything we did was in good shape.”

Ibrahimovic’s opportunities were also limited following the summer signing of Romelu Lukaku for £75 million (US$106.7 million), with the Belgian taking over the Swede’s number nine shirt and scoring 25 goals so far in his debut season.

The January capture of Alexis Sanchez and the continued emergence of Marcus Rashford also provided more obstacles for Ibrahimovic to overcome at Old Trafford.

“Man United signed some big players, they are stocked with very good people beside Zlatan,” said Fu.

“He had more of a leadership role, and in that way Zlatan will really be missed. The interaction with other players, the fun he brought, will be missed.

“He is a character, he makes people better. Everything he touches turns to gold. He enhances everyone else when he’s on the field.”