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.
A plethora of unpleasant questions
When Zlatan announced that his next destination was Manchester United, as an ardent fan of the club and of the Swedish striker, I had 3 questions in mind,
- Is this a signing to plug the financial gap of Manchester United’s failure to reach the Champions League?
- If he is coming for free, then it certainly means that Manchester United are surely spending the cash on an established name?
- At 35, will the cruel Premier league show any mercy to the man who once ruled the roost in all of Europe?
All these questions have been answered with a typical swagger and arrogance, which Manchester United is famous for. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has slammed the door on all his critics and has truly lived up to the self-proclaimed title of being the God of Manchester. If stats were a measure of a player’s success, Zlatan Ibrahimovic would topple them all. 19 games for Manchester United and he has already scored 13 times since he completed his highly publicized and often criticized transfer from Paris Saint German.
Ibrahimovic went six games without scoring. He played six consecutive league games from when he scored against City at home to when he finally scored almost a full two months later in Swansea and he played six games in all competitions from his Zorya strike to that double in south Wales without hitting the net too. For all intents and purposes, most of September and all of October was a write-off for the Swede on the scoring front and, my, how they all lined up to subsequently write him off!
Apart from blaming Mourinho, most of the blame went to Zlatan for his missed chances. Some sections of the media lamented Manchester United’s poor run was only because, “Zlatan is a flat track bully.”
Done to dust in ten
A few games later, all these doubts and shouts have softened and some of them even turned into admiration for the charismatic striker. 10 games and Zlatan Ibrahimović’s stats are simply incredible — his critics have disappeared because they have no right any longer in coming back out from beneath their rocks. He wasn’t even a world-beater against Sunderland. He should’ve scored more than one, he should’ve scored more than two but it was another match that passed where he was completely integral to the play of United. He was the out ball – high or low – he could hold it up, he could play the rest of them through and he could get in behind himself. All along, he has been absolutely and completely necessary to the team. His general play is why the manager refuses to rest him even for a League Cup game or Europa League match. Even at 35.
Against Sunderland in the 3-1 win for United, Zlatan Ibrahimovic recorded his first two assists of the season and he scored another as well, just for the record.
In the last 10 games in all competitions, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has directly been involved in 14 goals for Manchester United.
- He’s scored 11 goals in 10 games.
- He’s assisted 3 times in 10 games.
- He now has 12 goals in the Premier League.
United are picking up momentum in the league and Zlatan is one of the main reasons why Manchester United is looking like a team which resembles a wounded Tiger.
If you really like the art of number crunching then here are a few numbers which would open up a lot of eyes:
- He has now reached double figures for league goals in Europe’s top five leagues in each of his last 11 seasons. ( Apart from him only 2 aliens have done that and no points for guessing!)
- He has taken 74 shots in the Premier League this term, seven more than the next highest Christian Eriksen.
- Zlatan has more goals individually than Manchester United’s top goal scorer last season, Anthony Martial and mind you we are just midway of the premier league.
- He has scored 16 goals in all competitions this term – an outrageous 11 more than any other Man United player. In fact, only Sunderland’s English striker Jermain Defoe at 53 per cent has scored a higher percentage of his team’s goals than Zlatan (45 per cent).
Ibrahimovic has shown remarkable form in bagging seven goals in his last six Premier League outings. Even more impressive is that he has found the back of the net in each of United’s last five games away from Old Trafford.
Putting any doubts to rest, he was the best signing in the premier league for the year 2016 and one of the key reasons apart from being for free is the fact that he is clicking for Manchester United when they need him the most. Such is his professionalism that Manchester United are ready to activate his contract clause to sign him for one more year. He has won 29 major honours in his career and, the way he is performing, you can see him taking that figure way beyond 30 before his time at Manchester is over.
Bromance with Mourinho
Mourinho and Zlatan also have unfinished business. The pair shared perhaps the most satisfying year in their respective journeys around the elite football clubs of Europe in 2009, when they were together for 12 months at the Italian giant Inter Milan. Inter won the league title that year with plenty to spare and Zlatan, at the peak of his powers, finished top scorer in the Italian league in dramatic fashion with a trademark back-heeled goal in the final minutes of the season.
The pair share a mutual respect that almost borders on get-a-room bromance: “I would kill for Mourinho” Zlatan has stated more than once in his memoir (and you half-believed him), while the Portuguese reciprocated with “a player who gave me as much as Ibra will always be in my heart”.
That trust comes from a recognition of the common root of their motivation. Though both men have been vividly successful, winning has always appeared secondary to the primary goal of the settling of scores and slights, of making all the world at every moment give them due respect.
United without Zlatan Ibrahimovic
After glorifying about Zlatan, let’s look at his importance for Manchester United. Assuming he never scored these goals, where would Manchester United lie in the premier league table?
His 11 league goals have earned Jose Mourinho’s side 10 points in games against Southampton, Swansea, West Ham, Everton, Crystal Palace and West Brom. Only Chelsea striker Diego Costa has won more points for his team.
Without Ibrahimović’s goals United would, conceivably, only have 20 points, which would leave them 12th in the table between Watford and West Ham. Instead, they are sixth, four points behind fourth-place Arsenal. Only Ruud van Nistelrooy has scored more goals in his first 16 Premier League appearances for United than Ibrahimovic.
Comparing Ibrahimovic and Diego Costa, one thing is for sure as teams have started to look into these two individuals and want to get their hands on them.
Premier League numbers for Zlatan Ibrahimovic in December:
6 games – 19 shots – 12 chances created – 5 goals – 3 assists
It’s a phenomenal effort, having an average of more than 3 shots on target per game and contributing a goal or assist, on average, more than once every game.
That’s why Manchester United fans are desperate for him to stay another year at Old Trafford and push their transformation from Premier League also-rans to title contenders. It would not be wrong then to assume that United loyalists could soon be chanting to the tunes of their beloved Ibra.