Friday 24 November 2017

Ibrahimovic's ageless quality to inspire Reds, vows Mourinho

Jose Mourinho keeps a watchful eye on his players during Manchester United's training session at Shanghai Stadium yesterday. Photo: Reuters
Jose Mourinho keeps a watchful eye on his players during Manchester United's training session at Shanghai Stadium yesterday. Photo: Reuters

James Ducker in Shanghai

The soles of his trainers were red, his shirt was red, even his mobile phone case was red.

For a manager who has spent his Premier League career in the blue of Chelsea, Jose Mourinho certainly looked at home in the red of Manchester United as he sat down to talk yesterday in the salubrious Kerry Hotel, where the club are staying on the first leg of their pre-season tour of China.

But perhaps that is no surprise given how little resistance he offered to the notion that it was always his "destiny" to manage United.

What is clear is that, having waited long enough to get the job he craved, he has no intention of wasting time in it. The man charged with putting United back on top after three troubled years revealed his pitch to persuade Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who will wear No 9, to join United and why he is convinced the veteran striker will lead by example, as well as his plans for Juan Mata at Old Trafford, Wayne Rooney's continuation as captain, and his determination to stay at United for the long haul.


From the moment he introduced himself to Old Trafford 12 years ago with that brazen dash down the touchline to celebrate the goal that sent his Porto team into the Champions League quarter-finals, Mourinho has been a source of fascination for many United fans, whose playful chiding of a man they came to view as a pantomime villain at Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid often hinted at a begrudging respect for the Portuguese's talents.

Read More: Mourinho convinced Ibrahimovic will defy his doubters

Maybe it was because they saw something of a young Alex Ferguson in Mourinho's cocksure antics that March night in 2004, but while he will not satisfy all United tastes, he seems an easy fit for a role that proved too big for David Moyes and a job too far for an ageing Louis van Gaal.

"I never thought about it really," Mourinho replied, unconvincingly, when asked if the Old Trafford post was akin to a calling before his mask slipped. "I always had that good feeling, for sure, and I think the fans feel the same," he said.

"I remember playing at Old Trafford and the way to the dugout was always nice. It was never like in other stadiums. There was always a connection. Then can you end up being their manager one day or not? I always felt that what has to happen happens and it happened so …"

Mourinho's first eight weeks at United have already helped to restore the faith of many fans, from his bullish declarations to his manoeuvrings in the transfer market, which have yielded Ibrahimovic, midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan and defender Eric Bailly so far and could conclude with the £100m capture of Paul Pogba. It certainly would come as no surprise if the France midfielder had been won over by the sort of classic Mourinho salesmanship that persuaded Ibrahimovic, whom he managed at Inter, to join him at Old Trafford.

"Let's be honest, he's very rich," Mourinho said of the former Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona, Juventus, AC Milan and Ajax striker. "He's made money all his career, he's won a lot of things, you only come to the most difficult championship in the world if you feel you can do it. If you don't feel you can do it you go to America, China, stay in the French league one more season.

"So the guy wanted one more challenge. When I told him that I had won in England, Spain and Italy and he hadn't, that he'd done Spain, Italy and France, he thought, 'Ahh, I want to go. I want to win every one'."

Mourinho scoffs at the idea that Ibrahimovic's age - he will be 35 in October - is a problem, just as he looks incredulous when asked if Rooney will retain the captaincy, responding with an emphatic "of course".

"For me your real age is not the age on your ID," he said. "That's just a date when you were born. The real age, the real ID is your body, your brain, your attitude and this guy [Ibrahimovic] is young, his body is amazing. The way he grew up playing the sports he did before football, especially martial arts, he was prepared in terms of his muscles and mental point of view in a different way to the traditional football player.

"When I see our group in the attacking areas. Zlatan, Rashford, Rooney, Mkhitaryan, Mata, all the wingers we have. I think we have lots of quality in attack to produce good football and score goals."

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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