Former Manchester United manager Ron Atkinson has tipped United’s in-form Swedish striker, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, to fire in 20 plus goals for the club this season. The 77-year-old has also admitted he never realised how good the 34-year-old centre-forward was in the air until his two superb headed goals in a United shirt.
The Red Devils have got off to a flying start in competitive matches under the new manager, Jose Mourinho, picking up three wins in three, including the FA Community Shield. In all three of those fixtures Ibrahimovic has managed to get himself on the scoresheet taking his tally to four goals in three competitive matches – which by all means is a magnificent start for a forward who has proved he can score goals in three of Europe’s biggest leagues in his illustrious career – the, Ligue 1, La Liga and the Serie A.
Atkinson has revealed that he feels that it is refreshing to see a Manchester United player with the ability to score as many goals as Ibrahimovic is capable of – coming off the back of the two most recent seasons the United faithful has endured.
“The most satisfying thing for me is we’ve got a goalscorer in the team who is scoring goals, I look at Zlatan and I think he is a knock-in bet to finish with 20 goals and I’m talking league goals now. If you’ve got that in your locker and one or two others weigh in, it doesn’t half give you chances.”
The ex-Red’s boss touched on the fact that the Swede may not be a workhorse that covers every blade of grass and chases every single ball down when he enters the field, but he has a knack for being in the right place at the right time and taking chances when they fall to him.
“To be fair to him, there are going to be times during the course of many games when you think where is he? He’s not dynamic in fact and is not going to run here, there and everywhere because he’s 34. He is not going to do that. But you do know if you set him up with a chance – we’ve seen two great headers from him already.”
In terms of finishing techniques, the forward who signed on a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain really does have it all, even at the age of 34 the confident striker still has the ability to pull all sorts of shapes to bring an acrobatic finish out of the bag.
“I didn’t realise how great he was in the air before the Community Shield and then again today. They were two phenomenal headers. You always associate him with acrobatic overhead kicks and long-distance shots but he is a real threat in the air.”
It is early days, but you cannot in any way slate the start of Ibrahimovic’s Manchester United career – the club lacked an out-and-out goal scorer and he is seemingly the clubs answer. I have no doubts that Marcus Rashford will eventually become the club’s leading forward, but you need strength-in-depth to be able to battle on all fronts and it would be too much to ask for the 18-year-old to play and hit form week in week out, all season. Ibrahimovic is a world superstar, a well-known name and perhaps one of the game’s greatest, his experience will be invaluable to the likes of Rashford, Anthony Martial and other youngsters in and around the club. Furthermore, it does not only help the younger members of the squad in terms of learning, it gives them competition for places and it also gives Mourinho different options. If you want a striker to run in behind, chase every ball down, play with pace and power then Rashford is the name on your team sheet. If you want a striker that holds the ball up and is a presence in the box that can almost bully defenders and make them feel small, as Ibrahimovic did to Jose Fonte, then, of course, the Swedish hero is the man for the job.
Can he hit 20 plus league goals a season? Of course, he can. He has at any other club he has been at, so who is to say he cannot here under a manager he has a special relationship with? He has certainly made a good start. As Atkinson touched on, he really does have everything when it comes to putting the ball in the back of the net, no finish seems too hard for him, adding to that, he is cool, calm and collective, he is confident in his own ability, you will rarely, if ever, see the player panic.