Zlatan Ibrahimovic has brought more than just goals to Manchester United; he has instilled a new mentality within the squad, according to Juan Mata.
The Swedish forward made a fast start to life at Old Trafford, scoring four goals in his first three appearances. It seemed as though he had made a seamless transition to English football as United led the way at the top of the Premier League, but as United struggled for form so did Ibrahimovic, and he scored just four more times in his next thirteen appearances.
He came in for fierce criticism in the midst of his barren run when United were humiliated at Stamford Bridge and Ibrahimovic was seen laughing and smiling with Eden Hazard as they swapped shirts following United’s 4-0 defeat.
But Mata believes the impact of Zlatan’s arrival has been good for the squad, telling talkSPORT that Ibrahimovic’s character has brought something new to the dressing room that will benefit every player at Manchester United.
“He has brought a lot of things to the team, not just his mentality, but his way of understanding football, his way of behaving with the players in the dressing room.
“He is always pushing buttons in the right moment and in the right way trying to motivate everyone and he is a very funny guy so he is a very good addition for the team.
“He is always joking, always doing banter and pushing the buttons in the right moment in the right way to the right persons. It is good for the dressing room, this character.”
The impact of experienced players within a squad cannot be underestimated. Manchester United have a squad full of young, inexperienced but very talented players and they need the right guidance if they are to fulfil their potential.
Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, many of the old faces that upheld the correct standards at the club have moved on too. Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra have left the group devoid of real leaders, with only Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney left to maintain the same ideals that bred such success under Ferguson.
After finishing seventh, fourth and fifth in the three seasons since the Scot’s retirement, Jose Mourinho must re-establish a winning mentality to a group that has become bogged down in mediocrity. Who better than a man who has won 13 titles in his last 15 seasons as a professional?
His success at Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan and PSG commands total respect, even at such an elite level, and Mata still rates Ibrahimovic among the world’s most talented forwards.
“It is very difficult to have all things that he has.
“When people say this is the next Messi, or the next Cristiano, or the next Ibrahimovic, or the next Rooney, or whoever it is, it is very difficult because they are one of a kind.
“He has great physical strength combined with great quality, great flexibility, great movement and reading of the game, so he has almost everything.
“He has as well a strong personality, which has helped him a lot through the years. He says all time that he really feels it his mentality that sets him apart.
“I am very happy that he is here because I am always happy to play with great players during my career and obviously he is one of the best strikers in the game.”
Too often in this day and age, football fans become obsessed with statistical evidence. Whether it’s goals, assists or simply their pass completion rate, football is subject to the highest level of scrutiny it has ever faced. Despite his troubles in front of goal, Ibrahimovic has only scored three fewer goals than the best in the division. What we don’t see and what we don’t hear, is the work that is going on, on the training pitch. Jose Mourinho is a meticulous coach and he will understand what Ibrahimovic brings to this group. Having already described him as a ‘gift’ to Marcus Rashford, Mourinho will be hoping that Zlatan’s influence will help transition United’s players from also-ran to title contenders.