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Zlatan Ibrahimovic played down extent of injury: 'It was more than the knee'

MANCHESTER -- Zlatan Ibrahimovic has revealed he hid the true extent of his injury, and added that if it was known there would be "shock" that he has managed to return to professional football.

Ibrahimovic made his comeback in Manchester United's 4-1 win over Newcastle on Saturday after seven months on the sidelines.

After suffering a knee ligament injury in April, he had surgery in the United States in May. He was expected back in January at the earliest, only to beat that prediction by six weeks.

But after playing the final 13 minutes against Newcastle, the 36-year-old revealed his injury was more serious than anyone -- bar a small group of friends, family and medical professionals -- knew.

He said: "In my recovery, I have not rushed anything. I have been following protocol and my schedule day by day. The only secret has been working hard.

"Those close to me know what I have been doing -- I was working five, six hours a day. When it happened I said giving up was not an option.

"I am very proud of the moment, and for everyone around me because I wouldn't have done it alone.

"This was not one man's work, it was everyone's and thanks to them that I am back on the field and can play, because if people knew the real injury they would be in shock that I was even playing.

"It was more than the knee, but I will keep it personal -- that's why I choose not to talk of it."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic in action for Manchester United against Newcastle.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic made his season debut against Newcastle on Saturday.

Ibrahimovic has returned just at the right time, after Manchester City opened up an eight-point gap at the top of the Premier League table.

Jose Mourinho's injury problems have started to ease with Paul Pogba and Marcos Rojo also making their comebacks against Newcastle. And with key players back, Ibrahimovic says United can now focus on chasing down Pep Guardiola's side. 

He added: "I think we can chase City, why is it not a possibility? We are all here because we want to win and we need to because they are first.

"This week [the manager] been very happy because he has a full team for the first time this season and as a coach you want those opportunities and alternatives to make changes.

"He knows what he is doing even when the number of players are limited because he's a winner and has been winning every season.

"We were early into it last year and won two trophies and we are stronger this season. We believe we can do it -- that's the aim. To win and get the trophies."

Ibrahimovic was initially released at the conclusion of last season but signed a new one-year deal in August. He will be out of contract again in May but the Swedish striker says he is not ready to make a decision about his future, insisting his only focus is rediscovering the form that saw him score 28 goals last season.

He said: "At the moment I am just thankful I can run and push it and play football again.

"I don't know what the future brings but what happens, happens. I am at the age where I can choose what I want to do.

"I don't sign five or 10-year deals, I am just happy to be back playing and doing what I am good at.

"It's fantastic to be playing. Jose said 'do whatever you want, I trust in you and you know what you have to do,' so I was not worried.

"The contract is all paperwork and I do the physical work."

Rob is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.

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