So Zlatan Ibrahimovic announced on Thursday that he was coming to Old Trafford for what looks to be his final chapter of a glittering and highly entertaining career. The human quote machine seems set to bring along with him not just his undoubted talent, but one of the biggest egos the biggest we have ever seen grace the sacred turf. Quotes such when asked if he had bought a Porsche, he replied; “Absolutely not. I have ordered a plane, they are much faster”, shows what Jose Mourinho and the rest of the squad will have to put up with. However with the self-titled Special One hopefully keeping him in check, I think he will know his previous mentor may just be able to beat him in the ego stakes. However, Mourinho hasn’t just signed him for headlines. I feel there are two other qualities which are not thought about so much when you discuss Ibrahimovic. One is that he is a genuine leader who strives for success. Second, he is a huge, huge bully to any opposition defence he faces.
Ibrahimovic does have an abundance of technical quality which is clear, but now more than ever in previous seasons, and especially more than when he starred for Ajax and Juventus, he has raw power and strength that can help decide games. Even at 34, his will to win is clear. In Euro 2016 against Ireland, he helped get Sweden a point in their first game and keep them in contention of qualifying from one of the toughest groups in the competition. He never stopped running or probing for an opening through the whole game, and eventually played a one-two which got him around the outside of the centre backs to the left of the penalty area, and put across a sublime ball which caused havoc for the Irish defence which saw Ciaran Clarke turn the ball into his own net.
His raw strength has seen him move away from a silky smooth centre forward bagging classy goals to an out-and-out absolute bully on the pitch, tearing apart and bulldozing through defenders in the French league over the past four years, while keeping some of the silky smooth centre forward skills and bagging lots of goals. !A fan poll by L’Equipe in 2015 saw him crowned the biggest bully in football, a poll which had over 600,000 votes, of which over 73,000 were awarded to Ibrahimovic. Even more recently, during his medical, it has come out through various press stories that he has broken power records previously held at the club. For this to happen before pre-season training is even more impressive.
One thing that is also forgotten is that he is a genuine leader who strives for success. The squad has missed some of these qualities recently, with Nemanja Vidic gone, strength and steal left the squad. Along with this, Rio Ferdinand leaving and Ryan Giggs heading into retirement, leadership throughout the team also has fallen by the wayside. Wayne Rooney has done his best, Michael Carrick speaks up here and there, but there is something still lacking. Louis van Gaal attempted to address this with the signing of Bastian Schweinsteiger, however, his lack of game time to numerous injuries stunted his leadership on the field.
Manchester United haven’t had a player like him since Eric Cantona. Yes Cristiano Ronaldo had an ego too, and he could win matches on his own but from what we knew of Ronaldo then, and from what I’ve seen of him now again during the Euros, he’s not a natural leader. In Ibrahimovic, we now have someone who can use their charisma on the pitch to drag the team forward in a way that hasn’t been seen for a while. United have a young team coming through, and a new young signing already brought into the squad in Eric Bailly, and they will need older players to show them how to win games, how to manage games, and how to handle the pressure. Rooney will no doubt keep the armband, but he can’t lead the team on his own. He sometimes drops too deep in a desperate attempt to get the ball and go forward, and this normally means up top, there isn’t an outlet who can lead the line. United sure the have players who can take a man on; Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford have shown this, but they also need someone who can hold up the play and link up with the new explosive forward line.
I also feel we need someone who on the pitch can look after and protect the younger players, which shouldn’t be a problem for someone who is a black belt in taekwondo. United will also have a team player whose words can mean a lot to his younger team-mates. Everyone remembers the goal David Beckham scored against Wimbledon, however, what Beckham preferred more was the fact that Cantona said to him, ‘what a goal’ afterwards. The team used to strive for his compliments and looked up to him, probably still even now. It will be this type of enigmatic player that will help the squad flourish.
One last thing about Ibrahimovic which is something else I think the squad will always benefit from, is a player with all the medals, with all the charisma, with all the monetary rewards the game can bring, and yet will still strive every day to work hard and bring success. When Mourinho previously managed him at Inter, he said; “A player who gave me as much as Ibra will always be in my heart.” Coming from a manager who is renowned to appreciate and demand hard work all the time from his squad is big praise indeed. And another reason why this transfer makes sense.
It does help that know each other and appreciate each other from a previous time. This will give Mourinho a key ally in the squad already that could possibly be unhappy with Giggs leaving the club. He can obviously score lots of goals, and different types through either his skills, or through his brute strength, but I wonder with his age catching up with him, if Mourinho saw the leadership quality that made Laurent Blanc also say; “People should not forget he is a leader and has been one for quite some time,” then he must know that a player of this quality and charisma can have a lot of positive influence on a young team, which I feel is a key reason why this transfer has gone through.