Few players have achieved what Zlatan Ibrahimovic has in the game of football. The Swede is a serial winner, with titles in the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and France to his name, while he’s his nation’s all-time record goalscorer and is widely regarded as their best ever player.
His credentials should never have been in doubt, yet when it became apparent he would be following his former manager Jose Mourinho to Old Trafford over the summer, the doubters came out in typically vocal fashion.
That has summed up Ibra’s career from an English football standpoint. Despite his numerous honours, the common belief among Premier League followers always seemed to be that the Scandinavian star was an overrated, over-hyped pretender who would not cut it in a ‘real league’.
Even though the motives behind this belief were some way off of the truth, scepticism was, in a way, justified. At 34, no one could argue that Ibrahimovic was in his prime, while four full seasons strolling to France’s Ligue 1 title with Paris Saint-Germain was seen as a state of affairs that would rob him of his sharpness. Then there was the sheer cash involved, with his salary mooted to be around £250,000-per-week – a significant figure for an ageing footballer, even though he was a free agent.
Perhaps, though, the biggest risk was the impact Ibrahimovic’s arrival would have on Marcus Rashford’s development. The 19-year-old was one of few shining lights from 2015/16 at Old Trafford, with his emergence getting bums off seats. Blocking his progression was widely seen as a big issue, but the numbers show the sheer effect the Swede’s arrival has had.
24 goals and six assists in 36 appearances across all competitions is huge. In fact, it works out that Ibra has contributed a decisive action (goal or assist) once every 101 minutes he’s been on the pitch, and even though Man United are rooted in sixth, there’s simply no arguing with his impact.
It’s not just his significant numbers that are so impressive, it’s his overall impact on a Red Devils side that was meandering, too. His talismanic presence has helped to give this team an identity and it’s clear that Paul Pogba, the future talisman at Old Trafford, is thriving alongside Ibrahimovic, with all five of his assists in the red shirt having been laid to the ex-Barcelona man.
Had the move not paid off, Mourinho would be on the rack by now. Infamous for his favouring of proven talent over nurturing younger players, had ‘Mou’ opted for an underperforming veteran ahead of one of English football’s finest emerging talents, the media storm would have been intense. Rashford’s own development may have been knocked, but Mourinho is all about the short-term, and there’s no doubt that’s what Man United needed, with another season out of the Champions League (which may indeed still be the eventual outcome) enough to threaten the club’s elite status and render their ‘galactico’ transfer model hard to justify.
Ibrahimovic has silenced his doubters and it’s hard to see this Man United team being serious top four contenders now without him.