Zlatan Ibrahimovic left an indelible mark at Manchester United

Zlatan Ibrahimovic signed for Manchester United as a free agent in the summer of 2016 after leaving Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the 2015/16 season. The Swedish international signed a one-year contract at the Old Trafford club and because of his age, it was suggested that he would not achieve much at the club. That will be something that the striker looks back on and laughs at, even into his old age. The Swede just fit in at United immediately and showed his class and leadership – which was needed.

United’s third-choice goalkeeper, Lee Grant, who arrived after Ibrahimovic left the Old Trafford club, has lifted the lid on what it was like at the club with Zlatan there, seemingly in the perspective of the players who were there during the Swede’s 21 months at the club. Ibrahimovic was offered a new one-year contract at the club at the end of his first season, which ended on the sidelines after suffering ligament damage to his right knee in a UEFA Europa League match, missing the rest of the season.

During his short-lived career at United, Zlatan made a total of 53 appearances, scoring 29 goals and 10 assists, which at the age of 36, which was his age when he left the club, was a great achievement. It was a shame that it was not going to work at United with the player moving onto LA Galaxy in the MLS as a free agent. It was good to see the player actually play for United, which should have happened years ago and could have resulted in more trophies for the club and for the man himself.

Grant, who signed for United in July 2018, almost four months after Zlatan departed for Los Angeles, heard many stories from his new teammates about Zlatan, a player that he had faced in October 2016 when United drew 1-1 with Stoke City. The 37-year-old goalkeeper recently spoke to the official Manchester United website about Zlatan, albeit through stories passed on by his teammates, showing the indelible mark that the Swede left at the Theatre of Dreams on his departure, something the player will be proud of. Grant said:

“His period at the club had just come to an end but the lads would talk about him constantly. ‘Do you remember when Zlatan did this?’

“‘Do you remember him getting on to such and such in training and he nearly made him cry?’ ‘Do you remember that thing he does, the kung-fu kick over his head?’

“‘Do you remember Zlatan scored that goal? Do you remember when he nutmegged that guy and absolutely took the [micky]?’

“I thought, ‘Oh my god, who is this Zlatan character?’ but that was what it was like all the time.”

Grant then spoke about his only meeting against Zlatan, a 1-1 draw with Stoke City, Grant’s former club in October 2016 – a match in which Anthony Martial opened the scoring in the 69th minute of the match with Joe Allen equalising eight minutes from time. The United goalkeeper spoke confidently about his match against this Zlatan character who his teammates seemed to miss dearly, always reminiscing him. Grant then said, jokingly:

“I had him on toast. He’s in my pocket here somewhere. Of course, I wouldn’t say that to his face. If I was training against him, I would imagine he would have me on toast more than I had him on toast but that was a good day for me.”

Ibrahimovic is now back at AC Milan, in what is his third stint at the club having left LA Galaxy in November 2019. During the January transfer window, the Swede signed for Milan for the remainder of the season. On the 1 August 2020, still playing competitive football because of the coronavirus pandemic and the three-month delay on world football, Zlatan became the oldest player to have scored 10 Serie A goals aged 38 years and 302 days, breaking the record of Silvio Piola which was set in the 1950s. Ibrahimovic has played a total of 761 club matches, scoring 467 goals and 185 assists during his career so far, which may well continue.

Written by John Walker

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I support Manchester United, the greatest English football team to have ever existed. Bruno Fernandes is the latest in a long line of players with great ability to play for the club. I idolised Bryan Robson, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, and Eric Cantona growing up.