Why is Zlatan stalling on signing is new Man United contract? That and more in our weekend review
With Chelsea’s predictable stroll towards Premier League title glory a little less than inspiring for those of us who enjoy some kind to race for the biggest prize in English football, the latest comfortable victory for Anotino Conte’s Blues was not the lead story in this weekend’s soccer narrative.
WHY IS ZLATAN WAITING ON SIGNING HIS NEW UNITED CONTRACT?
The sceptics formed an orderly queue to dismiss the notion that Zlatan Ibrahimovic would make his mark in English football after he signed for Manchester United at the age of 34 last summer, but that pessimism has been replaced by a stream of adulation in the months that have followed.
“This is how I predicted it would be,” declared the Swede as his two goals secured an EFL Cup final win for United over an unfortunate Southampton side at Wembley on Sunday, with this serial trophy winner adding another notch to his legacy with his latest triumph.
Yet with the now 35-year-old currently stalling on signing the one-year contract extension that has been put on the table by United, the questions over his future became the subject of heated debate in his manager’s post-game press conference.
“I never beg for a player to sign a contract. I never beg for a player to play for me,” said United manager Jose Mourinho, as he sarcastically urged the club’s fans to camp outside Zlatan’s house until he agrees to sign his new deal. It can only be hoped that Mourinho’s sarcasm is not taken literally by United supporters!
Yet the more pressing issue for the coach who won his fourth League Cup on Sunday must be why his talisman is stalling on committing his future to the cause.
After taking his goal tally to 26 for the season with his Wembley double, you would assume Ibrahimovic feels he has at least one more year of top level football left in him, but he doesn’t have to look far to be given a reminder of what can happen when a player reaches veteran status.
Wayne Rooney started this season with Mourinho vowing to make him a kingpin of his attacking formation, yet the United skipper has quickly found himself demoted to the role of celebrity benchwarmer, with German World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger joining him (occasionally) in that slightly embarrassing B-list role at Old Trafford.
If United succeed in their mission to sign Atletico Madrid striker Antoinne Griezmann next summer and add a second striker to their roster ahead of next season, would Ibrahimovic be content to spend the season dipping in and our of Mourinho’s side?
In what is likely to be the final season of his wonderful career, Ibrahimovic will want to be a first team regular in a side competing in the Champions League and pushing to claim Premier League title glory.
If all those boxes can be ticked, he will stay at Old Trafford for a second season and for those of us who questioned him last summer and have been won over be his on-field brilliance and off-field cheek (which is often mistaken for arrogance), we’ll leave this topic with the icon who should be a strong contender to be named as Footballer of the Year.
Zlatan showing off his medal (and his G.S.O.H) pic.twitter.com/HBa9fkU85b— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) February 27, 2017
FABREGAS IS THE COMEBACK KID
Cesc Fabregas appeared to be on his way out of Chelsea after he was sidelined by Antonio Conte following his appointment the club’s latest manager last summer, so his performance in last Saturday’s 3-1 home win against Swansea was worthy of additional praise.
Bossing the midfield and showing that he still has so much to offer at the tender ago of 29, Fabregas drew level with Chelsea legend Frank Lampard as the second highest assist provider in Premier League history.
Only Ryan Giggs is ahead of him and the Manchester United legend has played 332 more games to generate his additional 60 assists, with Fabregas summing up his mood with some thoughtful post-match comments.
“Experience and maturity gives you this because in the beginning when I didn’t play, I told people not even to speak to me because I was really upset,” he said.
“That changes with time. Age, maturity and experience helps you understand that the most important thing is always the team.
“Don’t get me wrong, I want to play. Every football player wants to play every single minute but sometimes you have to fight for it. Sometimes the easy way is to escape, to run away, to sulk and to want to leave, to create a drama.
HOW MUCH IS HARRY KANE WORTH?
As Harry Kane blasted his 100th career goal amid his latest hat-trick for Tottenham on Sunday, the striker who was struggling to get a game while on loan at Leicester and Norwich just four years ago saw his AAA-rating value soar once again.
100 - Harry Kane has scored the 100th goal of his club career (84 for Spurs). Centurion.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 26, 2017
Last season’s Premier League leading scorer is topping the scoring charts against this term and while Spurs recently secured his services on a long-term contract, it would be hard to put a value on a player who would fit neatly into any top side.
“He is one of the best strikers in Europe,” declared Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino, who was right to make such a lavish claim to describe a striker who blew Stoke away with his latest classy performance.
Given the premium Premier League clubs put on English talent and if the £50m paid my Manchester City to sign John Stones from Everton last summer is any gauge, Kane must be worth double that sum at least.
INDEPENDENT.IE TEAM OF THE WEEK
Ben Foster (West Bromwich Albion)
Cedric Soares (Southampton)
Michael Keane (Burnley)
Patrick van Aanholt (Crystal Palace)
Seamus Coleman (Everton)
Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea)
Idrissa Gueye (Everton)
N’Golo Kanta (Chelsea)
Harry Kane (Tottenham)
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Manchester United)
Manolo Gabbiadini (Southampton)
“But in my mind, I decided I wanted to challenge myself, not everything comes easy in life, sometimes you have to fight certain situations you are not used to, or are against you in a way. But hopefully I have shown the manager can trust me in a way.”