Zlatan Ibrahimovic: King of Manchester (2016-18)

“I admire Cantona and I heard what he said. But I won’t be King of Manchester. I will be God of Manchester.”

Speaking like this before even kicking a ball could backfire in a league like that in England with the number of mainland players that fail to get accustomed to the style of play here. But such was the belief and confidence that Zlatan Ibrahimovic had in himself. And with these comments, the Swedish superstar’s reign over Manchester began.

It was time for English football to say hello to Zlatanism. Over the course of his season and a half at United, we’ve seen everything we could – that charismatic arrogance, goals, suspensions and of course being a nuisance and a bully to the opposition defenders.

From being written off because of his style of play and age by the majority of the press, Ibrahimovic had added reason to prove his detractors wrong. In his competitive debut itself, Ibrahimovic managed to pop up at the right place at the right time and scored the winner as United won the season opener at Wembley. It was the beginning of a rollercoaster of a season at Old Trafford.

For a multiple winner in multiple countries, Ibrahimovic brought a winning mentality to a team that was slowly losing that mentality as the club moved away from the Ferguson era. He brought an undeniable aura with him and that arguably was more important than goals in a team that has youngsters like Eric Bailly, Anthony Martial, and Marcus Rashford among others. He was the perfect mentor for these players and Rashford has often spoken about positively about the Swede’s impact on him.

Things last season, unfortunately, went awry with the cruciate ligament injury suffered by Ibrahimovic but the heart, character, and courage shown by him during rehabilitation is none like we’ve ever seen in this country and arguably in the world. This could have potentially been a career ender for a player of his age. While he may not have come back at his level best, it is still a stupendous recovery.

Ibrahimovic’s status among his teammates is something every professional would envy. Jokes on social media aside, the way the squad speaks about him shows the respect he commands and his stature among his peers.

While his style of play and the chances missed during the course of the season left sections of the United faithful frustrated, it cannot be denied that he carried us to an extent last season. He was on course for 30 goals in the season before an injury cut his campaign short so cruelly. His greatest moment has to be his match-winning brace in the EFL Cup Final against Southampton. It was another memorable visit to the national stadium for the Ibrahimovic.

Another one of his memorable outings for United will be the one in Stockholm in the Europa League Final season, though he didn’t play and the hat-trick he got against St. Etienne in the round of 32 of that campaign. It was fitting for him to win his one and only European trophy at his home stadium in the Friends Arena in Sweden. It was a crowning moment for a career that has seen him win over 30 trophies and score over 400 goals. It has to be said that he is one of the greatest strikers of this millennium if not the greatest.

While his dream of winning the Premier League and the Champions League remains unfulfilled and this was not the way he wanted to depart English football, his legacy at United and in Europe remains one of a serial winner. All the best to Ibrahimovic in the latest chapter of a wonderful career and it’s time for the MLS to become the MLZ.

Written by Vivek Menon

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