There had been many speculations surrounding Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s future since Manchester United released him in the summer. These have been put to bed when the Swede signed a new 1 year contract at Old Trafford last month. One man who thinks that Manchester United have made a mistake by re-signing Zlatan is Paul Merson. The comments made by Paul Merson on Zlatan Ibrahimovic appeared on Sky Sports soon after the signing.
Paul Merson said, “I just don’t get it, I really don’t. I know he got all those goals last season but who else had a great season last year? (Ander) Herrera, (Antonio) Valencia, no one else. Look at Mkhitaryan now, that won’t happen if Ibrahimovic is up front. Look at the way they were breaking then, it was too slow. For me Henrikh Mkhitaryan is one of the best players in the league, when he’s got pace around him like that. I know people are coming to me and going ‘oh but he won’t play’. He’s not coming there to sit on the bench. If Lukaku doesn’t score for two games, the fans will be singing his name, he’ll come on, he will nick a goal because that’s the way he plays and he’s still a good player but won’t be good enough for Man United, and then he’s in the team. Then it all slows down again. He’s the other side of 35, he’s just had a bad injury. I know he keeps himself fit but I just don’t get it, I really don’t. If I was Man City or I was Liverpool or I was Chelsea or Tottenham, I’d be wanting him coming back. I don’t think it helps Manchester United.”
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The opinions of Merson on Zlatan Ibrahimovic joining Manchester United have been highly critical but there are numerous reasons for this deal working in Manchester United’s favour. There are reasons for the fans of the Red Devils to cheer about because Paul Merson could be wrong about this one.
Every team needs a big presence
Some of the most successful clubs in history have had a leader in the dressing room. A big presence has been an absolute necessity to bring in the mentality that is required to win, to support when things are going bad, to pull the team out of a slump and to take the enormous experience on the filed. Whether it was John Terry at Chelsea, Carles Puyol at Barcelona or whether it is Buffon at Juventus or Sergio Ramos currently leading Real Madrid, every team needs a big presence.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic brings exactly that to the dressing room. He would be more than just a big presence in the dressing room. He would be someone to guide the team and most importantly, bring the mentality that is required for Manchester United to bring the glory days of Sir Alex back. There was a credible reason behind flying a severely injured Zlatan all the way to Solna for the UEFA Europa League finals 2017, only to be limping on the crutches on the sidelines of the Friends Arena stadium. The reason, though seemingly unfathomable, was acknowledge by Jose Mourinho, who shares the same winning mentality as Zlatan. Zlatan was far from being a tourist in his own country in Sweden during the night of the Europa league finals; he was there to cheer and scream from the sidelines. The sheer presence of Zlatan and his imposing aura were enough to rattle the confidence of a young Ajax side. He didn’t feature in the 90 minutes played, but Manchester United players felt a familiar presence lurking there.
Zlatan will have a positive influence on Rashford
Rashford will only improve under the influence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Rashford himself has talked about how Zlatan’s influence has immensely improved him as a player. “You will see the benefits in years to come. What I have learnt from him is irreplaceable,” Rashford told MEN Sport last season. Rashford also stressed that fact that there could have been no one else, other than Zlatan who could have provided him with so much on the pitch. He also added, “For me it’s the mentality he’s brought in, that’s the biggest thing I’m going to try and take from what he’s offered us. His mentality alone is what puts him ahead of the game.”
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Zlatan will improve Lukaku’s game against the Top 6
Lukaku had a tremendous form for Everton. He left Everton as the all time leading goalscorer for the club. In the 2015/16 season, he notched up 18 goals and 6 assists for Everton. In the 2016/17 season i.e. last season, he scored 25 goals and provided 6 assists. These number seem impressive, until you look at the top 6 sides of last season. Last season, Lukaku scored only 4 goals against top 6 sides. Even worse is the fact that he has scored just 5 goals in 35 matches since 2014/15 against the top 6 sides of last season. This is where Zlatan would come to effect to a vast degree. Having already mentioned about Zlatan’s mentality as a winner and a fighter, it is imperative to say that he will instill this into Lukaku to bring the best out of him. Lukaku would significantly improve under the influence of Zlatan and Mourinho against the top 6 sides and learn what it takes to be a true big game player. A metamorphosis from a strong bully to a big match winning striker would be witnessed at Manchester United in the coming seasons.
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Zlatan wants Manchester United as much as they want him
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has won the league trophy in every country he has played in. Premier League remains the only league that he hasn’t been able to conquer. Nobody has yet won the league trophy in 5 European countries and Zlatan already has 4 countries under his belt. He would have his eyes on the Premier League trophy before moving on to other projects and then finally retiring. This could also be his final attempt at winning the coveted UEFA Champions League which he has not won despite having a stellar career. By bringing his winning mentality, his big dressing room presence, his experience and his confidence, Zlatan Ibrahimovic could give Manchester United just that final push to make it over the line. Zlatan Ibrahimovic will have an important role at Manchester United and Manchester United will have an equally important role in Zlatan’s career.
Zlatan’s on field appearance at Old Trafford is still shrouded by ambiguity with Mourinho not guaranteeing a regular start for the towering Swede. Mourinho has cleared that the starting XI will purely be based on performance. Mourinho said, “Zlatan knows me. And he knows that I play the players that are the best for the team. I always did that in my life so, if he comes here and he proves that he is the best, he plays. If the other ones don’t give him a chance to prove that, that’s life. But I try always to be honest with my players and with my team. I try. Maybe sometimes I do not do the correct things. But I always try.”
Despite the uncertainty of featuring in the starting XI, one thing is apparent. Zlatan has a big role to play off the filed, regardless of whether he gets game time or not. If Manchester United win with Zlatan in the side, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s career would win with them too for obvious reasons. If he takes a back seat for once and plays a supportive role, this could turn in Manchester United’s favour. With an ageing body, Zlatan needs to be used sparingly and should be featured in games where the opponents need to be overwhelmed. If Manchester United win the league, not only will he break a world record, but he will prove that the comments of Paul Merson on Zlatan Ibrahimovic were wrong.