Can Zlatan Ibrahimović Relish a Return to Old Trafford?
Zlatan Ibrahimović is one of football’s great mavericks, combining a never-say-die spirit with boundless energy, indulging in stunts of footballing skill that have thrilled the world. The Swede’s reputation as a maverick gained additional prominence this week, with ‘Ibra’ considering a potential move back to Manchester United.
The sight of a 37-year old outfield player signing for a Premier League club is almost unprecedented, although there are instances of near-geriatric figures – such as Gary McAllister, Ian Rush and Teddy Sheringham – enjoying an Indian summer to their Premier League careers. However, there is no way that Ibrahimović could be described as geriatric, and age is clearly no issue for the man himself.
If anything, Ibrahimović has become more prominent with age, developing like a fine vintage. Indeed, he was already 25 years old before he truly came into his own, doing much to put Inter Milan as the dominant force in Serie A after Juventus’ forced demotion in 2006. It was a drastic turnaround from his inconsistent showings with Juventus, and he built on his good work at the San Siro by joining Barcelona and reserving his best for Champions League games.
Sadly, for Ibrahimović, the demands of homegrown wonder Lionel Messi took priority, and as a man who does not take kindly to being put out of position, Ibrahimović duly returned to Serie A – initially on loan – to ply his trade for AC Milan. Just two years later, however, he was on the move again, and would average nearly a goal per game for PSG between 2012 and 2016.
United & Galaxy Spells Prove age is just a Number
Even for a twenty something player on a debut campaign in the Premier League, a return of 17 goals in 28 league appearances is a very respectable return. That is exactly what Ibrahimović got in his only full season at Old Trafford, joining in the summer of 2016 to the surprise of many. His input was almost as consistent in the Europa League, during which he netted five times in 11 appearances en-route to winning it with United.
The signing of Romelu Lukaku in 2017/18 rendered Ibrahimović all but redundant, but he left Old Trafford held high in the esteem of the home faithful. That takes us up to the present day, in which Ibrahimović is destroying opposition defences in the MLS, and single-handedly keeping LA Galaxy in contention for the postseason playoffs.
He looks as lithe and capable as a man ten years his junior, and even if his mobility is no longer a fit for the Premier League, many strikers could do worse than to emulate his dead eye for goal. While MLS defences are obviously not of Premier League standard, they are certainly no ‘joke’ as some English football fans would assert, and at face value, Ibrahimovic’s stats certainly seem to justify aspirations for a return to the Premier League.
Ibrahimović has been a class apart this summer, ending a white-hot August by scoring a brace inside the opening 15 minutes of a pulsating El Tráfico draw with LAFC. Before that trip across LA, Zlatan Ibrahimović had also scored 100% of Galaxy’s goals across their previous three MLS home wins, getting at least a double each time.
Despite his age, and his penchant for opening the goals, Ibrahimovic continually proves his ability to start and end games well. So far this year, a significant majority of his strikes have arrived beyond the hour mark, signifying his suitability as an impact sub at any Premier League club in need of inspiration.
Ridiculous… but Necessary
Going into the September international break with just one win from their opening quartet of 2019/20, Manchester United still fall into that category, with their decline visible to those who check out the football spreads here.
At present, the Red Devils are reliant on an inconsistent Marcus Rashford, and an inexperienced Daniel James, for any productivity in the final third. The club is still adapting to life after failing to the qualify for the Champions League, despite paying the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku a king’s ransom every week for the past eighteen months.
Ripe for cremation or not, a fired-up Ibrahimović on a pay-per-play deal cannot do worse than that expensive duo of duds did in 2018/19. That alone makes this move all the more logical, especially if his performances could help the likes of Daniel James and Mason Greenwood develop from here.
Inevitably, there will be opposition to any move for Ibrahimović. The managerial reign of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is all about the future, and building the squad around a core of talented young players – exactly the same philosophy that Sir Alex Ferguson remained true to in the Premier League’s fledgling years.
Those with longer memories will, however, appreciate that without the example of elders like Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce and Mark Hughes, great players such as David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs may never have been as effective as they ultimately proved to be.