Zlatan Ibrahimovic had been the talk of the Premier League even before he kicked a ball. The name Zlatan means the golden one – and unlike most, has rung true to his own nature.
You can take the boy out of Rosengård but you cannot take Rosengård out of the boy.
These words are written at the entrance of the tunnel that leads through to the suburb of Rosengård in Malmö, Sweden, which for decades has been notorious for its crime and its poor economy; it was estimated in 2013 that over 80 percent of its population of 24,000 have immigrant backgrounds, and only 38 percent of the residents have a job.
The Liverpool Game
Zlatan Ibrahimović’s equalizer against Liverpool at Old Trafford is a breathtakingly good goal. His sense to take a couple of steps back into a tiny pocket of space thus giving Antonio Valencia a clear target for a cross demonstrated the instincts of a top-class and experienced striker. His header was placed, inch perfect high into the goal. Make no mistake it was not easy to execute. What shouldn’t get lost in the joy and relief of Ibrahimović’s leveler was his reaction to the goal.
There was no self-indulgent celebration here, just a few high-fives, a cry for Old Trafford to raise the roof, and a determination to restart the game in search of a winner. It was a pure display of the player’s winning mentality; no wonder Mourinho sought to recruit the Swede on taking the reins at Old Trafford.
Ibrahimović’s was not solely recruited to lead the line though. He is also at Old Trafford to add a measure of leadership missing for some time. By sheer force of personality, he’s emerged as the alpha male, supplementing both Wayne Rooney, and deputy captains Michael Carrick and Chris Smalling.
United’s dependence on Zlatan, both for inspiration and goals, is dangerous, especially with Juan Mata and Paul Pogba being the next top scorers for United in the league, a full 10 goals behind the Swede. But when United needs inspiration the man Mourinho’s players seek is the talismanic number nine.
United legend Nemanja Vidić singled out the Ibrahimović as being central to Mourinho’s side – and the Serb should know a thing or two about leadership.
“First of all, his motivation at 35 years of age is incredible. I think he’s keeping himself fit. He’s professional. And his scoring is a great record. He is the one who has been driving Manchester United forward in recent weeks. Other players have to step up with the goals if they want to keep winning matches. He is playing really well this season.”
If anything Vidić is understating the striker’s maniacal desire to stay at the top. The Swede may not have many years of football left, but his influence could linger around Old Trafford long after he hangs up his boots. A modern day Eric Cantona to inspire the youthful hopefuls.
It’s important not to underestimate the importance of Ibrahimović’s mindset – a winning mentality sorely missed during the Louis van Gaal and David Moyes era. Indeed, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial identified the impact the Swede has already made at Old Trafford.
Zlatan has taken on the role of “godfather,” and was quick to defend Paul Pogba after the Frenchman’s poor performance against Liverpool. Criticism of Pogba was exacerbated by the launch of the player’s emoji across social media. Poor timing.
Much like Roy Keane became, in his peak, the embodiment of Sir Alex Ferguson on the pitch, so Ibrahimović’s is Mourinho’s ‘general’, the man tasked with dragging United back to the top of the tree. It takes a special sort of arrogance to make that happen, and in Mourinho and Zlatan the club has a duo who possess confidence in spades.
It may labour the point, but it is Zlatan’s attitude and work ethic, as well as his aura, that could be his biggest legacy at Old Trafford.
In a recent interview, he said :
“I prefer to win the Premier League than any individual ones because seeing me winning something and not my team-mates is not the way I want it, If I could be first in the Premier League and have five goals and the media attacking me, ‘he can’t do it in the Premier League’, I’d prefer to have it like that.”
Ibrahimović may prefer to have it that way, but he’s not one to let his high standards slip and, by default, challenges those around him to keep up. True, there have been games where Ibrahimović has been relatively anonymous. He even suffered a six-match scoreless run, but he still has that rare gift of making a telling difference when inspiration is required. As my old man says “He has got a swagger which slays”
Cantona, United icon and self-appointed Commissioner of Football, gave his seal of approval to the Swede, dubbing Ibrahimović an heir, albeit with tongue firmly in cheek.
Behind the jest is a truth: that the Old Trafford throne finally has a worthy successor, one whose influence could linger long after he hangs up those golden boots.