Last summer was a major one for Manchester United. Superstar coach Jose Mourinho arrived and brought with him several world class players. One of those was serial winner and enigmatic Swede, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. His self belief and career achievements were a huge influence on the squad, especially the younger players. Parallels were drawn between the incoming striker and club legend Eric Cantona due to their personality and consistent confidence. Fast forward to the end of the season and it was not the ending anybody envisaged when Zlatan arrived. Injured in the Europa League semi-final and out for the rest of the season. Meaning he would miss a Europa League final in his home country. Then the announcement that United would not be offered a new deal. So what will happen next in the career of this truly unique athlete?
Issues with age were soon expelled when Zlatan scored the winner in the traditional curtain raiser the Community Shield. It was a marker that signalled just how vital the striker was going to be over the course of the season. He continued to set off at a remarkable speed when he scored in the league opener away at Bournemouth. If he had not already shown his critics how foolish they were he scored a brace on his first outing at Old Trafford in the 2-0 win against Southampton. The first a header and the second from the penalty spot.
In all the Swede scored 28 goals in all competitions. This is a great return for a player who arrived on a free transfer from Paris. He played 46 games in the season before his injury ruled him out for the run in. With all the complaints of crammed schedules and players feeling the effects of long stretches of games in the English game it is refreshing to see a player in his mid 30’s wanting to play week in week out. Along with his goalscoring heroics he also provided 10 assists for his team mates. Who knows how his stats would have altered if he stayed injury free!
The Community Shield winner was a sign of things to come for United fans. Often throughout his career Zlatan has been the main man on the big stage. This was certainly the case when United took on Southampton at Wembley in the League Cup final. It was a brilliant game of football that saw momentum swing in both directions. Ibra gave the Red’s the lead in the 19th minute of the final with a long range free kick. Jesse Lingard doubled United’s lead before Manolo Gabbiadini scored either side of half time to level things up. United on the ropes, Southampton going for the win the tide had seemed to turn against the Red Devils. Up step Zlatan Ibrahimovic to change the complexion of the game. 87 minutes gone in the final and he gets his chance. Moments like this are what he thrives off. He had made a living off providing at the most important moments. He headed home to break the Saints hearts and give Mourinho a much needed trophy.
The on field ability of the veteran forward is only one of the benefits United received in signing him. His comments to the media are again refreshing to English football. A man that has ultimate confidence in his ability and is willing to preach that to anybody who will listen. He has stated this season that he has the ability to make Man City fans switch sides and become reds. He also claimed that lions do not compare themselves to humans when he was asked about other strikers in the league.
While he has this reputation of being an arrogant individual he also has humble traits which complement this. Manchester United have a lot to be excited about at the moment and the future looks bright. Possibly the most exciting aspect surrounding the club is the youth players that are coming through. The brightest star breaking through over the last year and half has to be Marcus Rashford and he has had great praise for Zlatan. Rashford has stated that what Zlatan has taught him is ‘irreplaceable’ and we will see the benefits in the years to come. The young Manchester born attacker said that it was Zalatan’s mentality that he sees as the biggest lesson he has learned from him. If you couple this with reports that Zlatan stays behind after training to work with the youth team you start to see that the talk and reputation are built on a solid foundation.
While it is said that Zlatan will not be offered a new deal there is still hope. Zlatan is recovering from a serious injury and will not be fit until the start of next year. He will recover at United’s training complex and he could be offered a deal when he is fully fit again. For now it has been a pleasure as he has lit up English football. His ego and performances have not dissapointed and he has backed up everything he stands for. In a game and especially a league that rips up individuals reputation in a matter of weeks Zlatan has stayed strong and delivered when he was needed. It has been a honour to see him ply his trade in Manchester. Hopefully this will not be the end, but if it is – Thank You Ibra.