Jose Mourinho is not yet nailing down when recently re-signed Manchester United striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic will return from injury, but he has ruled out the possibility of him appearing in the group stages of this season's Champions League despite the fact that he will still be named in the squad.
The Red Devils formally announced the return of last season's top scorer and their new number 10 on a one-year contract on Thursday (24 August), two months after he was released at the end of his previous deal. His initial exit came following surgery on cruciate knee ligament damage sustained in April that was initially expected to keep him sidelined for approximately nine months.
Confirmation of such an agreement was not expected until later in the campaign and the timing of the announcement boosted hopes that he could play again much earlier than first thought.
Reports from The Sun even suggested that Ibrahimovic, who technically followed Victor Lindelof, Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic as United's fourth summer signing, was targeting the Premier League clash with Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford on 28 October for his comeback.
However, Mourinho has now tempered expectations by revealing that there is no prospect of the confident Swede being fit for the first six match days of the Champions League which take place between 12/13 September and 5/6 December.
However, he hopes he will be available for the knockout stages in 2018 should United progress that far in the aftermath of a kind draw that saw them placed alongside Benfica, FC Basel and CSKA Moscow in Group A.
"He will not be ready for the group phase of the Champions League. I don't think there will be any chance of that," Mourinho said during a press conference held before Saturday's visit of Leicester City.
"Do we have space in the Champions League list to have him? Yes, we have, so we don't need to leave any player outside the Champions League list. But I'm not thinking with Zlatan to play any part in the group phase. Hopefully, he can play in the knockout phase but, for that, we need to finish [in the] top two."
Mourinho is evidently reluctant to put any sort of official time frame on Ibrahimovic's recovery, but reiterated that he believes he will be a crucial addition for the second half of the season.
"I don't want to think about it," the manager added when asked for an estimated return date. "I don't even ask, I don't speak with him about it, I don't speak with the medical team about it. I just think he will be an extra man for us in the second part of the season.
"When I say second part of the season, normally we say January, after Christmas, when the transfer window re-opens in January. But I have no idea at all and I think the right way is not even to think about it and just let him do his work, step by step and come back when he's really ready."
Mourinho also hailed Ibrahimovic's reunion with United as showing the "dimension of the player and the dimension of the club".
He added: "A player that gets injured in a Manchester United shirt, fighting for Manchester United, the club has to be there for him and I'm really happy with both club and player."