Evergreen Ibrahimovic delighted to be proving his doubters wrong
Form may be temporary and class permanent, but your powers should still fade with age - although not if you are Manchester United's Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Manchester Utd 2 Middlesbrough 1
Ibrahimovic will begin the new year with a spring in his step after revealing he has taken extra satisfaction in his and United's upturn in form because people had assumed he was past his best when he signed.
With Jose Mourinho's side reviving their pursuit of a Champions League place on the back of five successive Premier League victories - and a run of 10 games without defeat - optimism is sweeping through Old Trafford.
And Ibrahimovic has harnessed the mood, insisting it is not too late to mount a challenge to Chelsea's title charge.
Having failed to impress at the European Championships for Sweden last summer and, having moved from Paris Saint-Germain at the age of 35, it was tempting to assume Ibrahimovic had arrived in the Premier League too old to conquer it.
But the striker has been a focal point in a rapidly-improving United team, who will travel to West Ham today just one point behind fourth-placed Arsenal. That gap had been in double figures in November, but hopes are rising in the red corners of Manchester that this team could yet pull off something special.
"I have no regrets about leaving it so long to play in the Premier League," said Ibrahimovic, who would have finished the year as the joint leading goalscorer in European football had referee Lee Mason not harshly ruled out his 'karate-kick' goal against Middlesbrough for dangerous play.
"Every year they [English clubs] have been calling me and they were not feeling good, so I wanted to come when everyone thought I was over the hill.
"I think I've had a fantastic year - I am not complaining. Let's say the second half of last season with PSG was amazing and I came to United - my first six months here has been more than amazing.
"I am super happy and let's hope we can continue the ride and keep going. I feel good. I don't know how many years I have left but I am enjoying the football."
The striker says he is enjoying making people eat their words, insisting: "The criticism gives me a lot of energy, trust me. A lot of energy because they get paid to talk s*** and I get paid to play with my feet, that's how I enjoy it.
"Hopefully, we can still win the title. We have not lost for 10 games - if the other teams make mistakes, who knows?"
Not that Ibrahimovic is enjoying everything about English football. He may hide it well, but the physical demands are taking their toll and the lack of a winter break - something he has always had when playing on the continent - is compounded by the fact United have been asked to play two games in just over 48 hours.
It is the same for a number of top-flight sides but that didn't stop Ibrahimovic insisting: "I think it's crazy. Let's be intelligent and realistic for the health of the players. For every individual, from the physical point of view, for everyone that is in the game, you need rest.
"There is no superman, there is no strength that can recover from a game so fast and I cannot do nothing about it.
"If the coach wants me to play, I will play, I have to play, so I am available, I feel good. But let's be realistic - from a game you need to recover two or three days."
United snatched an exhilarating victory from the clutches of a dispiriting defeat after Grant Leadbitter had put Boro ahead against the run of play midway through the second half. United had wasted several chances before Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba scored twice within two minutes late on.
The fact this victory came in such dramatic style will help gain even more momentum, as a nauseating sense of frustration was replaced by a euphoric sense of well-being.
"We managed to do something amazing, to bring the fans on to the pitch with us," said Mourinho. "We had 70,000 people with us, it was too much for a very good team who were very well organised.
"It was phenomenal. We played so well, it was a very good way to end the year. It was Sir Alex Ferguson's birthday today and that was a fitting tribute to him. That is the way his team played and that is how I want my team to play. I'm very happy." (© Daily Telegraph, London)