Zlatan Ibrahimovic may not be a Manchester United player anymore but Paul Pogba says the injured striker is still having a big impact at the club.
The 35-year-old confounded the doubters with an explosive first season at Old Trafford, plundering 28 goals before injury brought his campaign to an abrupt end in April.
Ibrahimovic sustained serious knee ligament damage and will likely be out for the rest of 2017, so it was little surprise that United chose not to extend his huge deal beyond the summer.
However, the Swede is undergoing rehabilitation with United and Jose Mourinho has opened the door for the return of a player who is still influencing life at the club.
“Obviously Zlatan is a leader, always a big leader,” United midfielder Pogba said in Washington. “And he’s still a big leader because he’s still in the team, even when he’s not playing he’s a leader outside of the pitch.
“I’ve been playing for one season, I came here to hopefully be a leader as well in the team. That’s not like the objective, but that’s how you should be.
“I’ve been here, we won and we want to grow up as a player and a leader as well. I can learn from him, from Carras [Michael Carrick], from all the players and become a leader.”
Mourinho said on Tuesday that that impact and experience of Pogba, the world’s most expensive player and a former United academy graduate, means he too could lead the side.
“I would say the leader of the young guys,” Mourinho said of Pogba. “He is probably the oldest of the young guys.
“He’s for sure the one with more experience because he’s the one that played Champions League final, Euro final, Europa League final.
“He has big experience at such a young age, at the same time he’s still the kid that come from the academy — the way he is in the club, the way he is in the group, in the training ground, his relation with the people is still the relation that Marcus Rashford has, Jesse Lingard has, all these kids they have.
“He is still the kid from the academy but with his experience, with his status and with his quality on the pitch, where he is also a key player for us, I think Paul has [the] conditions to be in a couple of years such an important guy in the club, really.”
But Mourinho did admit he would miss Wayne Rooney’s influence around United, after the captain grew frustrated by a lack of first-team opportunities and left for Everton.
“Wayne was a very positive influence,” the United boss said. “We cannot say we are going to improve the group because Wayne left. No way, or the other way around.
“He was such an important guy and good guy for us, I just think it is a new period without that face, without that leaders, without that good influence on us.
“And now it is time for other people to come up and knowing that probably it is Michael Carrick’s last year, the people that is behind have to prepare themselves for that.
“And the best way to prepare themselves for that is to be already burning in terms of that good positive influence and leadership.”
Pogba also said it was a “big challenge for me” to return United to the Champions League when he came back to Old Trafford after his time at Juventus.
“I knew that I wouldn’t play Champions League and I say to myself ‘I want Manchester United to be the Manchester United they were back in the day,'” he said.
“I think we are on the way. We won three trophies last season, we’re back in the Champions League. The team is improving a lot again, so I hope that we are going to continue that way and improve.”