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Why Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Premier League start shows he’s the best forward of his generation

The Boot Room

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Thirteen league titles, sixteen domestic cups, one European title and one world title amassed in four countries. Numerous individual awards and records. Dazzling goals, assists and overall play. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has it all.

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The 35-year-old Swedish striker is the ultimate journeyman footballer.

Ibrahimovic has played for eight of the biggest clubs in the world during his career and no one can say he failed at any stop. Those titles, accolades and his generally excellent play are why he is the greatest forward of his generation.

Some may not like Zlatan’s arrogance and bravado but few, especially now after his short time in the Premier League, can deny the player’s greatness. As with any player, legend or otherwise, Zlatan has his  fair share of critics. The main knock against him is that every team has played on has won the Champions League before, or after, his arrival. Some would say he is not a team player considering his attitude but the player himself knocks down such assertions.

In his latest sojourn, the Manchester United forward stated in an interview with ManUtd.com that his focus is on the team first. It’s hard to argue against that when you consider the results. Zlatan is a serial winner. One could argue that success was inevitable given the teams he has played on and the players he has played with but Zlatan was a key part of all those teams. His last three stops, Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United have also showcased some of the leadership abilities of the big Swede.

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Zlatan’s one regret, if it comes to pass, will be the lack of a Champions League medal. Another criticism that comes hand in hand with that is a perceived failure to perform in the biggest games. Goals in De Klassieker in Netherlands, Derby della Madonnina and Derby d’Italia in Italy, El Clásico and the Catalan Derby in Spain, Le Classique in France, Manchester Derby and North-West Derby in England offer a solid argument against that.

Zlatan possesses a unique array of skills that none of his contemporaries can match. The likes of Thierry Henry, Michael Owen, Samuel Eto’o have all made their mark in various ways. It’s Zlatan’s mix of physical, technical and mental skills, along with his long list of trophies, which suggest he will go down as one of the game’s greatest players. Among the number of great forwards to illuminate the game after Ronaldo, “El Fenomeno if we must clarify, Zlatan is ahead.  The fact that, at 35 years old, he can still be in the conversation against the likes of Sergio Aguero, Diego Costa, Edinson Cavani and Robert Lewandowski among others is astounding.

No other forward could have the durability and mental strength to jump into Premier League in its current state at 35 and perform so well.

A Premier League title looks highly unlikely at this point in the season but we’ve seen enough to suggest Zlatan will play his part in the challenge. The Manchester United forward still has a chance at three trophies this season with the EFL Cup, the FA Cup and Europa League still to come. It wouldn’t be surprising to see his contract renewed for another year given his play so far and the likelihood of a trophy. A Premier League title would cement his legacy even further but his work so far speaks for itself.

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Things were always going to be more difficult on the international stage despite Sweden having plenty of talent in his earlier years. Still, Zlatan is the country’s top goalscorer and certainly had his moments of brilliance as shown by his goals against Italy and England.

Zlatan has always been among the goals at his various clubs and was only below single digits a few times early in his career. Per Soccerbase.com the Swedish striker had a ratio of 0.62 goals per game in league play and 0.5 goals per game in other competitions in his club career. He was not always about goals though as his Ajax upbringing ensured he liked to be involved in his side’s buildup. His mixture of strength and technical skills made this quite easy and that side of his game has been on display more in recent seasons.

Even if we take away the two Juventus titles due to Calciopoli scandal, Zlatan still has 11 league trophies in four countries. If he stays with United beyond this season then he has the chance to make it 12 in five. Zlatan didn’t need to move to England to prove anything given his career so far but he’s definitely added plenty to his story so far at Manchester United.

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Manchester United

“Imagine thinking Phil Jones is better”: Newcastle fans react to Jamaal Lascelles omission

Newcastle fans can’t believe Jamaal Lascelles is not going to the World Cup this summer.

Max Cohen

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Jamaal Lascelles
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Chelsea narrowly defeated Manchester United in Saturday’s FA Cup Final, thanks to Eden Hazard’s first-half penalty.

United centre-half Phil Jones conceded the spot-kick, felling the Belgian in the box and drawing the ire of Twitter in the process.

Newcastle United supporters were baffled at Jones’ poor cup final performance and criticised England manager Gareth Southgate for selecting the 26-year-old defender ahead of Jamaal Lascelles in the World Cup squad.

Against Chelsea, Jones made headlines for his high-profile mistake 20 minutes into the match.

The defender was caught flat-footed just inside his own half when Cesc Fabregas played a lofted ball in the direction of Eden Hazard.

The Belgian’s first touch was excellent and left Jones for dead, putting the Englishman on the wrong side of the ball.

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Hazard then cut back across Jones, before the defender lunged into an ill-timed challenge that got nowhere near the ball.

In a cup final of such importance, mistakes such as Jones’ can prove immensely costly. And as United lost the match by the solitary goal, the centre-back’s error was devastating.

And the Manchester United defender’s poor showing incensed English supporters, who were furious at his inclusion in Gareth Southgate’s 23-man team.

In particular, Newcastle United fans felt aggrieved that Jones was selected in front of their captain Jamaal Lascelles.

Lascelles has been superb all season for the Magpies, marshaling the Newcastle defence while leading the club to an impressive tenth-placed finish.

Unlike Jones, who has been an inconsistent feature in United’s side, Lascelles featured in 33 Premier League matches this season – ten more than the United defender.

The Newcastle United faithful expressed their discontent at the England manager’s defensive team selections, arguing Lascelles would have proved a far more effective option in Russia.

And as one intrepid Twitter user noted, when Newcastle United played host to Chelsea just one week ago, Lascelles kept Hazard in check and held the Blues scoreless. Jones, on the other hand, capitulated in the face of the Belgian’s skills.

England face Belgium on 28 June in their final group stage match; Newcastle and Three Lions fans alike will be praying Phil Jones does not feature.

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Manchester United

Luke Shaw must seek Mauricio Pochettino reunion to revive floundering career

Max Cohen

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Luke Shaw
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The latest disappointment in a dreadful season for Luke Shaw came on Wednesday, when the Manchester United defender was left out of England’s World Cup squad.

Limited to just 11 league appearances this season, amid a falling-out with Jose Mourinho, the full-back must seek a move to Tottenham Hotspur this summer and reunite with ex-Southampton boss Mauricio Pochettino.

It is easy to forget that Shaw is just 22 years of age, as the left back burst onto the scene as a 16-year-old back in 2012.

Once considered one of the world’s finest young defenders, Shaw played in the 2014 World Cup for England and was signed by Manchester United for £30 million – the world record fee for a teenager at the time.

However, the Englishman’s time at Old Trafford has been a troubled one. Filled with injuries and managerial bust-ups, Shaw appears a shadow of his former self and is desperately short of confidence and playing time.

(Photo by Lindsey Parnaby/Getty Images)

A transfer to White Hart Lane to link up with old boss Mauricio Pochettino would be the ideal switch for the left back.

Shaw still has time on his side to revive his career, as at only 22 years old, he has many playing years in front of him.

The Argentinian would be the perfect manager to coax the best out of the fullback, due to Pochettino’s impressive knack for getting the best out of promising youngsters.

The two spent a year-and-a-half together at St. Mary’s and Shaw has since spoken glowingly about his respect and adoration for Pochettino in Guillem Balague’s book Brave New World: Inside Pochettino’s Spurs:

“I do hope that I can play for him again one day. And I think he really wants me to play under him again.”

In order to save his floundering career, Shaw must leave Old Trafford and make the switch to Spurs to rekindle his relationship with Mauricio Pochettino.

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English Premier League

Four Premier League ‘flops’ that have gone on to excel in Europe

There are some exceptional former Premier League disappointments now excelling abroad.

Martyn Cooke

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Flops
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Mohammed Salah has emerged as one of the leading performers in world football this season after having an incredible debut season with Liverpool.

The 25-year-old has scored a combined total of 44 goals for club and country this campaign and was subsequently voted as both the PFA Player of the Year and the Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year.

However, it was only two years ago that Salah was being branded as a flop following a short, unsuccessful stint with Chelsea.

The Egyptian made only a handful of appearances at Stamford Bridge and had to rebuild his reputation in Italy with Fiorentina and Roma prior to emerging as one of the best players in the world this campaign.

Here, The Boot Room looks at four other Premier League flops that have rebuilt their careers in European football.

Memphis Depay

(Photo by Jeff Pachoud/Getty Images)

There was considerable excitement when Manchester United signed Dutch prodigy Memphis Depay for £31 million in the summer of 2015.

The 21-year-old had been the Eredivisie’s leading goal scorer in the previous campaign with his pace, technical ability and unpredictability helping PSV Eindhoven to a first Dutch title in almost a decade.

However, Depay failed to find his feet in England and was unable to secure regular first-team football.

His inconsistent form on the pitch was further emphasized by his reputation for being something of a flashy, egotistical playboy off it.

He was subsequently sold to Lyon for an initial fee of £16 million in January 2017 having failed to impress Louis van Gaal or Jose Mourinho that he was worthy of a starting role.

The Dutchman has subsequently excelled in France and has exploits have helped Lyon to qualify for the Champions League next season.

He has scored 19 times in all competitions this campaign and is one of only a handful of players who have reached double figures for both goals scored and assists this campaign.

Furthermore, now 24 years of age, Depay has also begun to mature and lose his former bad-boy image.

Andrej Kramaric

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When Leicester City broke their transfer record in January 2014 to purchase Andrej Kramaric for £9 million, it was widely considered to be an excellent piece of business.

The forward had been prolific in Croatian football where he was averaging over a goal a game with Rijeka and had already secured a regular place in the international team.

All of the signs indicated that The Foxes had bought a young, prolific goal scorer.

Ultimately, Kramaric failed to replicate his previous form and had a diminutive impact at the King Power Stadium.

He started just six games for Leicester before being loaned out to Bundesliga side Hoffenheim in January 2016, mid-way through Claudio Ranieri’s title-winning season, and he made the move permanent when the campaign concluded.

Now, 26 years of age, the Croatian has rediscovered his goal scoring touch in Germany netting 30 goals across all competitions over the previous two years.

He hit a hat-trick against Hannover at the end of April to fire Hoffenheim towards Champions League qualification and was hailed as a ‘top striker’ by his team-mate Havard Nordtveit.

Paulinho

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In the summer of 2013, Tottenham Hotspur broke their record transfer by purchasing midfielder Paulinho for a fee believed to be around £17 million.

Spurs had just sold Gareth Bale to Real Madrid and the Brazilian was one of a number of high profile and expensive signings that the club made as they reinvested the money.

Paulinho made a solid, if not spectacular, start to life at White Hart Lane and was a regular feature in his first season, making 30 appearances in the Premier League.

However, in the summer of 2013, Mauricio Pochettino replaced Tim Sherwood as manager and the midfielder simply never featured in the Argentinian’s plans.

He made just three starts and was subsequently sold to Chinese Super League side Guangzhou Evergrande for £10 million.

It was initially thought that the Brazilian’s top flight career in Europe was over until Barcelona made the surprise move to sign him in the summer of 2017.

Paulinho has emerged as a key feature at the Nou Camp this season, making almost 50 appearances across all competitions, to help the club secure a domestic league and cup double, leaving Tottenham supporters wondering if they sold the midfielder too soon.

Iago Aspas

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Liverpool signed diminutive Spanish forward Iago Aspas in the summer of 2013 for a £7 million as Brendan Rodgers continued to remould the playing squad at Anfield.

The striker’s arrival was something of a surprise considering he was uncapped at international level and was not widely perceived as being a prolific goal scorer.

The Spaniard struggled to find his feet in the Premier League and made only a handful of appearances before returning to La Liga with Sevilla at the end of the campaign.

He scored only once, a solitary strike in the FA Cup against Oldham Athletic, and his most noticeable contribution was producing one of the worst corner kicks of all time against Chelsea.

However, Aspas is now flourishing with hometown club Celta Vigo and is regarding as one of the most prolific strikers in La Liga.

He has scored 21 goals across all competitions this season in 35 appearances and is the leading Spanish goalscorer across all of Europe’s top flight leagues.

He has a genuine chance of leading Spain’s forward line this summer at the World Cup.

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