Tuesday 12 December 2017

Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Manchester United - A PR stunt or a game changer?

Zlatan Ibrahimovic poses with the Manchester United kit
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

The worst kept secret in football was confirmed last week when Zlatan Ibrahimovic confirmed he was joining Manchester United - but what version of this sporting icon will Jose Mourinho get when the new Premier League season gets underway?

While may be one of the few living sportsman recognisable by their first name alone, Ibrahimovic’s reputation will count for little when the Sweden legend starts mixing it with the elite of English football.

The serial winner who will toast his 35th birthday in October is very much a short-term option for new United manager Jose Mourinho as he targets instant glory in his first season at Old Trafford, but can Zlatan live up to his billing in what may be his final season at the top?

Here is your Independent.ie guide to the signing of a sporting giant who will be expected to carry the United charge as the Mourinho era kicks into gear.


THE AURA -  Mourinho knows Ibrahimovic so well from his time working with him at Inter Milan, with the Swede consistent in his words of praise for a manager who made him “feel like a giant” in their season together at the San Siro.

Any manager who can boost the ego of this already hilariously confident footballer has to be praised, yet the comments offered up by Ibrahimovic when asked about Mourinho may be one of the primary reasons why he was the first name on the wanted list for the club’s new manager this summer.

Mourinho will want Ibrahimovic to tell anyone who will listen what a great coach he is as he looks to build his own aura in the United hot-seat. In essence, Ibrahimovic will be Jose’s chief publicist at Old Trafford and he could not have a higher profile front man.

THE TALISMAN - Eric Cantona emerged as a father figure for a youthful United team that won a Premier League and FA Cup double in 1996 and Mourinho will hope Ibrahimovic can fulfill a similar role now.

United’s talented young guns should learn from a striker whose record of success confirms he demands the respect of those around him, even if he tends to ensure he is the centre of attention at whatever club he has been attached to.

United lacked leaders last season, but they will have a giant at the head of their team if Ibrahimovic is still capable of keeping pace with Premier League football.

No more heroes: Cantona

WINNING MENTALITY - Wherever Zlatan goes, he wins and wins big.

Only once since 2004 has Ibrahimovic failed to finish the season as a champion, with his league tote wins with Ajax, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain a stunning record of success.

If he could add a Premier League title to his collection in his first season at United, it may be regarded as his greatest triumph yet.


AGE CONCERNS - Not many nearly 35-year-old strikers will still have the class to make a mark in the Premier League and while Ibrahimovic is not ordinary footballer, it’s hard to imagine he could dominate games week after week in the high octane Premier League.

Shining in French football has been easy for a player who retains his world-class attributes, but there is a danger that he will be found out as he tries to adapt to the pace of the Premier League.

Ageing players also tend to be a little more injury prone and there has to be a worry (as was the case with Bastian Schweinsteiger last season) that he will clog up the United treatment room.

WHAT HAPPENS TO MARCUS RASHFORD AND ANTHONY MARTIAL - Ibrahimovic has not come to Manchester United to warm the bench alongside his favourite manager Mourinho and he will expect to start the first Premier League game of the season against Bournemouth.

What that will mean for United youngsters Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial is open to debate, with the gifted duo likely to face a fight to start in what may be just one lead striking role in the Mourinho’s line-up.

Rashford and Martial could start as support forwards to Ibrahimovic and there is a decent chance that the veteran Swede will not be up to playing every game in what will be a hectic season for United. Yet there is a worry that his presence will put a block to regular first team action for two of the brightest young stars in the game.

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford (right) celebrates scoring

EURO 2016 FAILINGS - Sweden were pretty dreadful at Euro 2016, but the lack of input from their only world-class player were viewed by many observers as a hint that his powers are on the wane.

In games against the Republic of Ireland, Italy and Belgium, Zlatan was an anonymous figure, with his fatigue evident after a long season of club football at Paris Saint-Germain.

If the Zlatan of this summer’s international festival in France shows up at Old Trafford, he may be little more than a celebrity substitute, but Mourinho will hope he gets better service from his revamped United side.


Ibrahimovic is box office and even if United are paying him lavish wages each week, they are likely to get that back through shirt sales and sponsorship deals that will be enhanced by the presence of one of the game’s true living legends at their club.

Zlatan needs to prove that he has what it takes to terrorise Premier League defences as he approaches his 35th birthday, yet on balance this is a one-year deal worth making for Mourinho and United.

The new United boss knows he has a high profile and vocal supporter in his camp and Ibrahimovic is certain to be motivated to confirm he is not a spent force at the highest level.

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