When he made the move across the Channel in the summer, many doubters rose to the surface to declare that Zlatan Ibrahimovic was ‘past it’ and make it known that they didn’t think he would be good enough for the Premier League.
Despite his stellar career, which includes winning major silverware at every club he had played for prior to joining Manchester United from PSG, it was argued that, at 34, he had left it too late to make his mark in England’s top flight.
It was said by some that he should take advantage of his reputation and move to the USA or China for one last pay day, as his legacy would be broken if he failed in England. But that did not deter the maverick Swedish forward.
The chance to work with Jose Mourinho—who he played for at Inter Milan—once again was a huge pull, and Ibrahimovic has revealed that his children pressured him into joining the Red Devils. Despite a period of underachievement following the retirement of their legendary boss Sir Alex Ferguson, United are still arguably the biggest club in the world.
Louis Van Gaal brought United’s first FA Cup trophy since 2004 with victory over Crystal Palace in May, but failed to land a top four finish and secure the lucrative carrot that is Champions League football for this season. Yet, with the arrival of Mourinho—a proven winner—United were able to bring in three big-money signings in Eric Bailly, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba—a world-record £89m signing.
However, it was Zlatan, as he is affectionately known, that created the biggest furore, the biggest frenzy. The self-assured, positively arrogant star was coming to Manchester “to win.” Having won titles at every club he has played for, he didn’t make the move to lose his streak. And he doesn’t take kindly to critics.
Ibrahimovic is a walking quote-machine. Every word that rolls off of his tongue is taken in with anticipation, journalists, fans and pundits eager to hear the next outrageous thing he has to say. From comparing himself to God, to saying he is ‘like a Ferrari’, you will never fail to take something from his comments.
It means nothing, though, if he cannot back it up on the pitch. The beauty of Zlatan is that he consistently backs it up. Yes, it was a risk to move to the world’s most competitive and physical league whilst approaching 35, but it is something that has paid dividends for United.
He was instrumental in United’s 2-1 win over champions Leicester in the Community Shield in August, scoring his first competitive goal for the club to win trophy number 31 of his career. He has cleaned up whilst playing for Ajax, Juventus, Inter, Barcelona, Milan, and PSG; most notably, he managed 156 goals in 180 appearances over four seasons to become PSG’s record goal scorer.
And he has continued to exceed whilst in England, contrary to what his doubters predicted. He has 26 goals in all competitions—more than any other player in England—and was the talisman as United beat Southampton in the EFL Cup, with Ibrahimovic scoring twice—including an 87th-minute winner.
United have looked like their old selves again at times this season, and Ibrahimovic’s influence cannot be underestimated. He has been compared to Eric Cantona, and you can see why. He is a leader, a born winner, and a role model for the younger players.
Zlatan is well into his 36th year but if Mourinho wants to take United further, he could do a lot worse than to have Ibrahimovic around. He knows what it takes to be successful, and he doesn’t look like he is finished just yet.