Zlatan Ibrahimovic is known for his self-confidence but even the much traveled 35-year-old cannot help but be surprised at just how quick he has adapted to life in English football. In the latter stages of his illustrious career, like a fine wine, the Swede seems to be getting better with age.
Sunday’s winner at Ewood Park saw the former Paris St-Germain striker notch his 24th goal of the season and he could pick up his first cup in English football, should his side overcome Southampton at Wembley on Sunday in the EFL Cup final.
This followed his first hat-trick for his new club in the Europa League first leg win over St-Etienne last Thursday. The striker has netted over 30 goals per season in each of his last five campaigns and is well on course to follow in that tradition this year.
United boss Jose Mourinho and fans alike will be hoping the former Sweden captain signs on for another campaign as the Manchester United squad starts to take shape under the Portuguese manager after a tough period under both David Moyes and Louis van Gaal since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013.
Ibrahimovic has given Manchester United their fear factor back. He along with Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are signings you might have seen under former boss Ferguson. They are winners, and Mourinho is building something special. Yes, they may be sixth in the table, but that is not a true reflection of the work the ex-Chelsea boss has done this year.
Failure to finish off teams, in games Manchester United deserved to win, has seen the club at the very least ten points off where they should be. Mourinho is on course to challenge for the title from next season and the impact of Ibrahimovic has been central to that.
On Sunday at Ewood Park he entered the field with 30 minutes left on the clock and immediately the team upped a gear with the striker finding the net yet again with just 15 minutes to go.
Some critics doubted the player’s age and ability when he opted to come to the Premier League at the latter stages of his career yet he has made some so called experts eat their words with his performances so far when it would have been easier to wind down his career in the MLS or China.
As reported in the Daily Mail, Mourinho knew what type of player he was getting and is not surprised by the impact of his main man.
“I don’t know the number of goals [he has scored], I don’t know. I knew that he would be a very important player for us. I knew that for sure.
“One more goal, one less goal, but I knew that the contribution would be massive for us.”
With Manchester United facing a hectic period it will remain to be seen if Ibrahimovic can continue to deliver as the added games will have to have an impact at some stage.
Sunday’s clash was also important for this reason, with Marcus Rashford on the scoresheet after a difficult few months where his game time has been limited. But he will surely be involved in the coming weeks as Mourinho rotates his squad. The young England international will never have a better role model to learn from as he sets out on his career.
Despite Ibrahimovic showing no signs of winding down, Rashford will be the perfect replacement for the star striker when that day does arrive. He will also be a better player for having trained and played with his fellow teammate.
For now Ibrahimovic will return to Wembley where he will be hoping to add the EFL Cup to his impressive haul of trophies in what could be the first of three cup finals Manchester United take part in this season.
The former Barcelona man has the added incentive of reaching the Europa League final, which will take place in his home country at the Friends Arena, Stockholm.
Should United make next year’s Champions League by winning the Europa League or achieving a top four finish in the league, it will give Ibrahimovic one final opportunity to win the Champions League, an honour that so far has eluded him.
While this may seem a far-fetched dream as Manchester United currently lie in sixth position in the table, the Swede will no doubt believe it can happen, and who would bet against him.
Damien McEvoy, Pundit Arena