Me Zla­tan, You Wrong

The Economic Times - - Sports: The Great Games - Migeul De­laney

You could have called it the crown­ing glory of a fine de­but cam­paign at Manch­ester United, ex­cept there’s more to come. Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic scored late against Southampton to claim a tro­phy in the League Cup as well as his 26th goal in 38 games for United, and all by Fe­bru­ary.

It is a hugely im­pres­sive haul, con­tin­u­ing the strike rate he had in a less de­mand­ing league with Paris Sain­tGer­main. It also re­asserted just how much of a de­ci­sive match-win­ner he is,an­da­t­ro­phy­win­ner.Abig­con­tri­bu­tion to go with that big per­son­al­ity.

The­bigques­tion,of course,iswhether there is more to come with United af­ter this sea­son; whether he will sign on for an­other year.

Jose Mour­inho stated that the be­lief at the club is that Ibrahi­movic will, although he played on the star’s al­ready heroic sta­tus amongst sup­port­ers by sug­gest­ing they camp out­side his house to per­suade him. It’s dif­fi­cult not to won­der whether the 35-year-old is de­lib­er­ately leav­ing the ques­tion open right now to deepen that sta­tus by mak­ing him­self more wanted, to

cre­ate a bit more mys­tique.

There can be no doubt­ing the proper foot­ball sub­stance be­hind that im­age, or­thatheis­stillthe­same­player.When Mour­inho was specif­i­cally asked whether he him­self ever doubted whether Ibrahi­movic was still phys­i­cally able to be such an in­flu­en­tial player at the Pre­mier League at the age of 35, he gave an an­swer that did al­most as much as the goals to ban­ish such ques­tions.

“Onlyasil­ly­play­er­comestoEng­land with­35year­sold,and­with­a­suc­cess­ful ca­reer that Zla­tan had, only a silly one comes here if he doesn’t feel that he can do it so who bet­ter to know? Him. Not me, not you, him. So when he de­cides, 35 years old, to take the chal­lenge, to a coun­try like Eng­land, to a club­likeManch­esterUnited,whenhe takes that de­ci­sion, he feels ready. The most im­por­tant feel­ing is his.”

Ibrahi­movichas­madealotof peo­ple eat their words forc­ing them down throats in the same way he forces in goals like that against Fraser Forster in the 87th minute of the fi­nal.

Ibrahi­movichas­s­cored­six­in­his­last five fi­nals, just as Mour­inho has now won 11 of his ca­reer 13. If it weren’t for the fact that Ibrahi­movic is so cre­ative­ly­ex­pres­sive,youcoul­dal­most­call him the Por­tuguese’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive and spir­i­tual em­bod­i­ment on a pitch, given­thep­ar­al­lels­be­tween­them­from their shared his­tory to the way they have been doubted be­fore United.

Zla­tan’s record is some­thing to keep in­mind­when­hecome­soutwith­some of his more out­landish com­pli­ments about him­self. He gets away with say­ing highly self-re­gard­ing things that would sound ut­terly lu­di­crous if they came from al­most any­one else.

That also points to one of foot­ball’s eternal­truths.You­cansay­al­mostany­thing,as­lon­gasy­ouare­do­ingth­e­busi­ness and win­ning on the pitch.

Ibrahi­movic has been more than do­ing that. His scor­ing rate, in fact, is re­al­ly­what’slu­di­crous.It’sso­good,es­pe­cially the way he has kept up a ra­tio of over 0.68 from his time in France. The drop-off from 0.86 from his time in France is ob­vi­ously for­giv­able, given that United are not so far ahead of the restof their­leagueinthe­wayPSGare.

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