Sunday 23 October 2016

Ibrahimovic talk speaks volumes about Van Gaal fate

Jim White

Published 19/02/2016 | 02:30

Paris Saint-Germain's forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Getty Images
Paris Saint-Germain's forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Getty Images

Zlatan Ibrahimovic for Manchester United: it is a marriage arranged in footballing heaven. The world's supreme footballing ego playing for the club who have long regarded themselves as something special: rarely can there have been a fit as perfect.

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Zlatan would strut into Old Trafford with a confidence and swagger unseen since the days of Eric Cantona. While others have shrunk under the weight of expectation there, Zlatan would only grow in the confident knowledge that he was now at the centre of attention. He would have arrived where he belonged.

The thought planted in the minds of English football reporters covering Chelsea's game with his employers Paris Saint-Germain - that Zlatan might well team up with his old mentor, Jose Mourinho, at United next season - was one too delicious to ignore.

There is, though, just one minor drawback with such a piece of fantasy matchmaking: Ibrahimovic is now 34.

As an idea, the signing of the Swede by United is at least six years past its sell-by date.

How United could have done with him in 2010, to take the place of Cristiano Ronaldo as the superstar match-winner, the galactico in red.

But that opportunity was missed.

And were it to happen now it would be a mere gesture rather than a serious piece of team-building. As priorities go, signing a super-annuated centre-forward on huge wages is well down the list of things needed to revivify an ailing institution.

Not least because they already have one of those in Wayne Rooney.

And bringing in Bastian Schweinsteiger well after he reached his glorious peak has not exactly set a successful precedent for signing the over-thirties.

Yet the fact that a flight of fancy, floated mischievously during post-match press duties, has created such a stir of excitement, immediately dropping an Alka-Seltzer into the easily excited waters of social media, tells us much about the current condition of United.

When leaden-footed defeat at Sunderland is the wearisome reality, the retreat into fantasy team-building becomes ever more inviting.

When the side stumbling and bumbling in domestic competition has about as much character as a supermarket carrier bag, then the thought of a one-man quote machine arriving to stir things up has a certain attractive quality.

Never mind that however great he might have been in his day, Zlatan would not begin to resolve the issues at Old Trafford.

Never mind that what this team need is an injection of oomph, of pace, of youthful exuberance, rather than a rapidly ageing has-been looking to bolster his pension.

Such is the grimness of the present that the very thought of him in a red shirt is enough to raise the collective pulse.

And there is something else, too, about the Zlatan-to-United proposition: it further reinforces the gathering view that the manager is a lame duck. The Swede's potential signing has been talked up as a possibility solely because of his association with Mourinho.

The assumption is the Portuguese is not only certain to be on his way to Old Trafford, he is already beginning to rebuild the team. How United will look under his management, who he will bring in, who he will let go has become a well-established pastime.

Indeed, listening to Ibrahimovic and his coded responses designed to talk up the possibility of reuniting with his favourite manager next season, you might almost feel sorry for the incumbent of the United dugout, a man who is already effectively history.

Well, you would if he wasn't Louis van Gaal. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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