When Zlatan Ibrahimovic arrived at Manchester United, it was clear that the club and José Mourinho were buying someone who knew how to win games.
In the club’s official announcement on their website, Mourinho provided a short, albeit progressive, introduction of what was to come, and 12 months later, he hasn’t disappointed. The number 9 role at the club was tailor-made for a superstar like him and after initial doubts over whether he could pull the mammoth task off in England, he’s done it brilliantly.
Mourinho’s summary of his new purchase was clear and provided fans a little more of what they already knew. He told the club’s official website:
“Zlatan needs no introduction. The statistics speak for themselves. Ibrahimovic is one of the best strikers in the world and a player who always gives 100 per cent. He has won the most important league championships in the world of football, now he has the opportunity to play in the best league in the world and I know he will grasp this opportunity and will work hard to help the team win titles.”
He’s done an incredible job in repaying his manager’s faith. After an impressive start where he scored four goals in his first four games, including two on his home debut against Southampton and one against Manchester City in a 2-1 home loss to Pep Guardiola’s side, he and United hit a slump of form. But after another brace, this time away at Swansea, he has been an influential figure in the side and hasn’t looked back since.
Ibrahimovic has been known worldwide for his winning attitude and strong mentality that has propelled him to success in the most famous leagues in the world and, for a club that has been lacking that aura ever since the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson called it a day, he has done an exceptional job in bringing it back. His contribution on the ball is widely evident, but off it, he is often seen demanding change and shouting instructions to get the side moving.
The Swede’s effect was greatly felt in December and he was at the core of the changes in the side as they were adapting to José Mourinho’s methods, winning five out of their six games that month. He played in all six games, drawing the first one and winning the next five as he scored the winner at Crystal Palace and one each at Everton, West Brom and Sunderland, with a match-winning brace away at West Bromwich Albion sandwiched in between.
He ended up winning the Premier League’s Player of the Month award, the PFA Fans Player of the Month award and Manchester United’s Player of the Month award in a month that highlighted just what he was made of. In addition to his goals, he also bagged three of his five assists that month, including the cross for Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s spectacular scorpion kick goal.
And he was the star again in February in his second visit to Wembley, when they faced Claude Puel’s Southampton in the EFL Cup Final – his first shot at official silverware at the club. He scored twice that night, the first being a stunning free-kick from about 30 yards out, although it could be argued that the wall should have done better, and the second was a late header from an Ander Herrera cross to seal a magnificent 3-2 win. In an interview after the game, he made his statement very clear.
After being asked about his first experience in England, he provided a response in the only way he knew, “This is what I predicted. Everything I thought would happen,” he told Sky Sports, “The only thing is the others didn’t see it. And I came here to show them what I saw and what I would do. Clear, concise and a mark of a champion.
He ended the season with 28 goals in all competitions – 17 of which came in the Premier League and, despite failing to win the English top flight, he managed to win the first European honour of his career, in the form of the Europa League, as his teammates beat Ajax 2-0 in the final in his native Sweden last month.
Although he couldn’t participate in the final, it was a trophy that he deserved after scoring five times in the competition, including his first European hat-trick for the club against Saint-Etienne. Meanwhile, he was also named in UEFA’s Europa League Squad of the Season.
The latter part of Mourinho’s summary, back when Ibrahimovic first signed, had him insinuating the impact the Swedish striker would have upon his teammates and, just like the first part, he has done just that: “I am certain that his talent will delight fans at Old Trafford next season and that his experience will be invaluable in helping to develop the younger players in the squad.”
Fans, players and pundits, alike, have spoken about his influence. Marcus Rashford, in particular, has come out on several occasions in appreciation of a man who has 16 more years of experience than him and performs the same role.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic leaves Manchester with his reputation intact. He has played a role almost similar to that of Eric Cantona with his antics not going unnoticed. For a year only, he has provided enough entertainment on and off the pitch and did exactly what he came to do – win trophies.
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