The acquisition had long been flagged, even if the timing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s re-signing took many by surprise. Still months away from full fitness and courted by clubs in Europe and the United States, the Swede will return to the Manchester United squad as a back-up and not the main man. That much is reflected in Ibrahimovic’s new wage, which is less than half the amount that he earned last season. Yet, while the striker will not face Leicester City at Old Trafford on Saturday, his presence is already felt.
Gary Neville might have said it best: football is a cynical industry, and Manchester United is a cynical club. It’s something about the bravado and thirst for success. Past greats are celebrated, but the club moves on. Better players than Wayne Rooney have left Old Trafford; better loved players too. Gone, not forgotten, but with a focus shifted quickly. The king is dead; long live the king. Yet, history will also record the new Evertonian as one of the finest to have played for the club.
Picture the scene. Thursday, 17 December, 2015. Chelsea’s annual Christmas lunch at the club’s Cobham training ground has just concluded. The mood is downbeat. The Blues had lost 2-1 at Leicester City the previous Monday to record a ninth Premier League defeat of the season. José Mourinho’s low-key pre-lunch training session does little to lighten the atmosphere. The manager is sporting a newly shaven head and the stubble of a man too distracted to shave. As the players drift home, chairman Bruce Buck and director Eugene Tenenbaum arrived to sack Mourinho as Chelsea manager for the second time. A brutal assasination.