The return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and what it means for Manchester United

Manchester United’s Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic reacts during the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Everton at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on April 4, 2017. Oli SCARFF / AFP

Many Manchester United fans were ecstatic at the start of last season when Swedish superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic announced that he would be joining the club. And they had a right to be very happy! Zlatan was a talismanic striker who had won the league title at every club he had played for and other numerous titles.

The Swede started life at United in emphatic fashion, scoring an acrobatic goal in his first ever game for the club, before scoring the winner in the community shield in his official debut and going on to score a brace in his league debut. His season was cut short by a horrific knee injury that a lot of fans felt would signal the end of the 35-year-old’s career, but before then he had already amassed a total of 28 goals for the ‘Red Devils’ and was by far their best scorer.

That injury he suffered on the 20th of April was meant to be the end of his football career or at least the end of his career in the major leagues. China and America were being mentioned as places where he would try and get one final payday if he ever recovered from his injury as his Old Trafford career seemed to be over. However, just yesterday, Manchester United announced that Zlatan Ibrahimovic will continue his journey with the club and has signed a one-year contract.

Amidst all the euphoria and fanfare of the return of ‘the lion’, there seems to be some concerns.

Manchester United splashed the cash this season to get Romelu Lukaku as their new number nine and the big Belgian has started really well, so the question of how and when will Zlatan get back into the team is a valid one for Man United fans. It is understandable that Jose Mourinho would want to remain loyal to a player that scored 28 goals in 46 matches for his team last season and has performed really well for him at two clubs. The giant Swede would also love to continue his trend of winning the league title at every club he has played for, by achieving that with United this season, that will be a burning motivation for him to come back and perform well for the club.

Goal scoring was a major issue for the Old Trafford outfit last season and improving on that was their major plan coming into this season and by their early form, they seem to have gotten better at that. A squad that possesses the attacking talents of Romelu Lukaku, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Zlatan Ibrahimovic should never lack goals and this is what Jose Mourinho is happy about since he will be involved in four competitions this season. Ibrahimovic will come in handy for Mourinho because he will most likely be fully fit during the second half of the season, when Romelu Lukaku might need to be given a bit of rest and rotation of the squad will become an important factor to keep it fresh.

Ideally, United should have Ibrahimovic deputizing for Lukaku, while Martial deputizes for Rashford and arguably making up the finest forward line in the Premier League and one of the strongest in Europe. However, the big issue here is that Ibrahimovic will not want to play second fiddle to anyone. The last time it happened, at Barcelona, he fell out with the coach. In his own words, “You bought a Ferrari but you drive it like a Fiat… It began well, but then Messi started to talk, he wanted to play in the middle, not on the wing, so I was sacrificed and no longer had the freedom on the pitch I need to succeed.” Ibrahimovic and his coach at the time, Pep Guardiola had a row in the dressing room in which Ibrahimovic claims to have thrown a box of training kit at the Spaniard, who he called a spineless coward.

That scenario is unlikely to happen at Manchester United as he has a very strong relationship with Jose Mourinho and has spoken publicly about his solid respect for the Portuguese. Mourinho believes Ibrahimovic can play in the same team as Lukaku. The Swede’s new squad number (10), could also allude to the fact that his role might just change a little bit and he will not be the out-and-out striker he was last season, sort of the way Wayne Rooney made sacrifices so Cristiano Ronaldo flourish.

Ibrahimovic is undoubtedly an inspirational asset to any team, but we really don’t know how well he will be willing to cope as a support act. Ibrahimovic is a diligent figure in any team too, but he is nobody’s support act. The team’s attacking line looks unstoppable on paper with the addition of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, however, Mourinho would need all his man-management and coaching skills to handle the return of Ibrahimovic to the team. If handled properly, both men might just get what they desire at the end of the season.



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