Man United could pay bigger price than Bournemouth when dust settles on Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Tyrone Mings clash
Ibrahimovic likely to face three-game ban as the FA review fractious clash with Mings, writes Jonathan Liew
Tyrone Mings stopped mid-sentence. The defender was explaining how Bournemouth's 10 men had pulled off their great escape, when he was suddenly drowned out by a loud roar from the general direction of the car park. "Are those cheers for me?" he chuckled. Alas, no. The Manchester United fans waiting patiently outside Old Trafford had just landed the big one. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was leaving the building.
Mings allowed himself a smile. Off the pitch, he and Ibrahimovic may as well inhabit different universes. But on the pitch, where it mattered, the pair had fought like equals. The spoils had been shared: a point each, a bruise each, and very possibly a retrospective suspension each. Mings stepped on Ibrahimovic's head. Ibrahimovic swung an elbow into Mings's face. But once the pain had subsided, there was no bitterness: only a certain manly relish.
"What happens on the field, stays on the field," Ibrahimovic said. "I am not a player who will stand here and blame a player. He jumps into my elbow. Nothing on purpose. I am not here to attack anybody. It had nothing to do with the situation before, because I didn't even know who had stepped on me. It is the game. The game is hard."
"If he says he didn't mean it, then he didn't mean it," Mings said. "That's fine. If I caught him, I caught him. It wasn't intentional. It's a big jump if you are asking me to jump over two people."
The Football Association may take a slightly different view, however, when it convenes today to decide on further action. It will study referee Kevin Friend's report, and assuming he did not see either incident, will assemble its disciplinary review panel, composed of three former referees, who will each study the video footage independently. If all three agree on a charge of violent conduct, Ibrahimovic and Mings could find themselves facing a minimum three-game ban.
Which would be a blow for Bournemouth. But, you suspect, an even bigger blow for United. Few players have carried their team like Ibrahimovic at times this season. Moreover, he has missed just one league match since signing for the club last summer. Now he faces the prospect of missing two, as well as an FA Cup quarter-final against Chelsea.
At the very least, it is a leap into the dark. Not because Ibrahimovic has been playing superbly every week: at times, as on Saturday, he has been curiously ineffective for long periods.
Not even because of his goals and assists. Perhaps the best way of describing it is as a sort of sporting charisma: the intense gravitational pull that a player such as Ibrahimovic exerts on a team, whether they are aware of it or not. The magnetism. The omnipresence. The way he drags defenders away from goal, creating space in behind. Or the way he pushes defenders back towards goal, creating space in front. And yes, the goals, which have so far earned United 13 points and two trophies.
"I take full responsibility," Ibrahimovic said after missing a penalty in the 72nd minute. Perhaps this is the problem. Ibrahimovic always takes responsibility. Few players would have walked out to face the media after costing their side two points. But whether it is a post-match interview, a crowded car park or the dying minutes of a Wembley final, Ibrahimovic has this effortless ability to make the world revolve around him.
Jose Mourinho, the United manager, certainly recognises it: extraordinarily for a 35-year-old striker, Ibrahimovic has not been substituted all season. Nor is this a recent phenomenon. Over the past six seasons, encompassing United, Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan, Ibrahimovic's teams have won 68 per cent of the time with him, and just 57 per cent without. Can United cope without him? They may be about to find out.
For Bournemouth, meanwhile, this was the sort of game that can turn a season. They were wretched for half an hour, yet Andrew Surman's sending-off seemed to focus them and they fully earned their point. "The only way you ever answer any criticism is by delivering a performance like we did today," said assistant manager Jason Tindall.