Zlatan Ibrahimovic says he was “honoured” to make his first appearance for Manchester United in seven months – and that his return proves he is a “lion”.
The 36-year-old Swede has been sidelined since April after injuring his ACL in the Europa League match against Anderlecht.
But he came on to a rousing reception as a 77th-minute substitute for Anthony Martial in the 4-1 win over Newcastle at Old Trafford.
Speaking to MUTV, the striker claimed his injury had been worse than people might have realised, but told of his pride at finally pulling on United colours again.
He said: “I told you, lions don’t recover like humans. That I have now proved, rather than just saying it.
“But if people knew what kind of injury I had, they would not believe this. People believe I only had an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury, but I had more stuff in my knee that was injured.
“I want to keep that to myself, though, because I don’t need to tell the world – it’s very sensitive.
I am just thankful I am able to run, do my things, do a little bit of ‘abracadabra’ magic – things that a lion does!
Zlatan Ibrahimovic to MUTV
“Even in the warm-up, I felt the supporters cheering my name, singing my song. It gives me a lot of energy, a lot of love, motivation, you just want to go out there and give back.
“I was very pumped, very honoured, very proud. In that moment, I just wanted to go out, smell the grass and just give back, play my game, touch the ball as much as possible, feel free to play, doing things I did before my injury, because I have not been able to do these things whilst I was injured.
“I am just thankful I am able to run, do my things, do a little bit of ‘abracadabra’ magic – things that a lion does!”
Ibrahimovic, who was United’s leading scorer last season, cited his determination as a key factor in his recovery and insisted quitting was never an option.
He said: “I am very thankful that I am able to play football again after what happened. I appreciate every day I can put on the football boots and work hard and play the game that I love, play the game that I have played all my life and the game that means everything for me.
“To give up was not an option, it was only to work my way back and give everything. I am stubborn when it comes to reaching my objectives. When I got injured, my objective was to come back as strong as possible and there was no other choice.
“When I decide something, I am very focused, I do everything 200 per cent. I don’t let anyone stop me and I will not give up.”
The Swede was not the only player making a welcome return for United. Paul Pogba started the game after being out for 12 weeks with a hamstring injury, scoring one and setting up another as United came back from a goal down to win the match comfortably.
The France international, who was man of the match, said: “To come back, to see the fans again, to score at Old Trafford on my comeback, I feel blessed.
“But we had to win, that was the most important thing. You just have to recover well because the Premier League is different to Italy, it’s more intense. Otherwise, I just feel good, just to come back.”
The result means United stay in second place and eight points behind leaders Manchester City with 26 points from 12 games.