From all indications Manchester United will be adding one of the most decorated strikers in the world to their squad, reuniting close friends as a striker-manager pair. Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimović is a player of transcendent ability who has seen and done it all at the club level. At 34 years old, however, there are now doubts as to whether he can still produce at the highest level after leaving the relative comforts of Ligue 1.
This seems strange coming off his most prolific season in Paris, but as is customary with a club of the stature of Manchester United, every move will be scrutinised by supporter and non-supporter alike. There are a few angles from which to assess the merits of Man United adding Zlatan to their ranks and three in particular that are most important:
- What intangibles does he bring along with him?
- Is he still good enough?
- Will he detract from the development of young forwards such as Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, and the likely-to-be-on-loan duo of James Wilson and Adnan Januzaj?
When looking at a Zlatan signing, the intangibles he can bring to a team like Man United must be considered. His personality is one which will provide a much needed shot in the arm to a club stripped of its most charismatic and outwardly passionate players. Zlatan has a massive ego, yes, but with that also comes a great amount of pride and his own feeling to prove to himself and detractors that he can cut it in England.
He’ll sell shirts and ramp up fan interest. Zlatan will generate even greater interest in the Red Devils and in tandem with José Mourinho, the buzz surrounding the team will be massive. His appeal to ‘emerging’ football markets can only be a positive.
He’ll bring sorely missed swagger. It is felt that Man United lost their air of invincibility which propelled them to wins against the odds on many an occasion. Draws and losses have been converted to wins by a sheer feeling of entitlement alone and many teams have buckled under the weight of expectation. Again, Zlatan’s personality might be just the larger than life one to resurrect the Man United swagger so blunted by the last two managerial stints of David Moyes and Louis van Gaal. In terms of the intangibles, his presence in concert with Jose Mourinho although potentially explosive, could provide a much needed shot of penicillin to Old Trafford.
His raw goal and assist numbers would suggest so. This past season represented by some way his best return in a PSG shirt, any shirt. The common and valid qualifier placed on his 38 league goals and 13 assists is the league’s quality itself. Then again, his 38 was 17 more than the second placed Alexandre Lacazette and twice as many as his own teammate Edinson Cavani’s 19 goals. Of the goal and assist leaders, Hatem Ben Arfa and Angel Di Maria both managed their best tallies in a season. The previously troubled Ben Arfa simply obliterated his best ‘non-Ligue 1’ five goals with 17.
Clearly he won’t replicate his most recent exploits, not a year older and not in England. But Man United does not need this.
A short term deal for Ibrahimović, meaning one or two years of good production would be the best case scenario. There’s no issue with the club and transfer fees as has been proven time and time again. With Zlatan, there are none. His wages would no doubt be high and would probably place him around the level of Wayne Rooney’s salary. In the grand scheme of things this doesn’t matter much for a forward who can bring experience, is used to winning, and can still score 5 goals and provide an assist in 10 Champions league matches.
A goal every other game would be just fine.
A move for an established player in their footballing prime would have been the wrong move for the development of Marcus Rashford. Whilst he is not quite ready to be the leading man with all the associated responsibility for United, he can gain experience without all the lights on him. As he enters his second season he will experience the natural fluctuations in form and confidence as young players invariably do.
When that happens, an under pressure Rashford can’t be the main option.
So if Rashford can provide relief in the league, with carefully selected starts, and feature in cup competitions then Zlatan’s presence can only be a good thing. The hype associated with him could evaporate as quickly as it did for Januzaj who had a nightmare second season and has not recovered since then. Martial, on the other hand, is just as comfortable on the left side as he is as the main striker and could cement the position for himself. The player himself has said he still believes he is a striker by trade but he loves playing wide. Therefore, his own production wouldn’t be directly affected and could be enhanced having a top quality forward to ease the goal-scoring (and creative) burden that fell to his feet last season.
Only the Beginning
In fairness, there is a lot not yet determined and the production of the forwards relies largely on Man United getting a creative force or two so that it doesn’t become another case of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney getting starved for service. Strong moves have reportedly been made for Dortmund attacker Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Reports are that his current club are blocking the move. Whatever the outcome of that particular saga, a move for Zlatan is sensible for Man United from all indications but his ability to perform will also depend on subsequent moves made by the club.
It might be too late for Zlatan to be Mr. Manchester United but his short term contribution would be welcome if he can produce something close to 20 goals in the league for a team woefully short on goals and creativity. At this time there are too many unknowns to be sure of what he will produce. He can simply fall off although there are no obvious signs of decline and Man United have struggled to create chances. One thing is certain, Man United would hope that he really is “getting better and better” as the Swede has convinced himself.