Zlatan Ibrahimovic will miss three Manchester United games after taking pointed retribution against Tyrone Mings at the weekend. The Swede’s swinging elbow was missed by referee Kevin Friend, but an FA panel found inevitable guilt in the 35-year-old’s violence. Yet, while the striker’s 26 goals in all competitions have been vital to United’s cause this season, there may be greater benefit from an enforced leave of absence.
Zlatan Ibrahimović’s equalizer against Liverpool at Old Trafford is a breathtakingly good goal. His sense to take a couple of steps back into a tiny pocket of space thus giving Antonio Valencia a clear target for a cross demonstrated the instincts of a top-class and experienced striker. His header was placed, inch perfect high into the goal. Make no mistake it was not easy to execute. What shouldn’t get lost in the joy and relief of Ibrahimović’s leveler was his reaction to the goal.
Perhaps the most shocking data point from Manchester United’s last three Premier League home games is the more than 70 shots taken for just two goals scored. United 1-1 Stoke City, United 0-0 Burnley and United 1-1 Arsenal all carried a good deal of frustration. The six points lost in draws where United should have won might just be critical by May and could have taken José Mourinho’s side to just three points behind leaders Chelsea. It wasn’t so and for the most part the blames lies with the Reds’ inability to turn chances into goals. Not so on Thursday, with United vibrant in attack and efficient in scoring four against Feyenoord. The question is whether United can sustain the level of performance when the serious business of domestic football resumes this weekend?
Management, for better or worse, is about making tough decisions. There is a line between loyalty to a player, friend, or employee and what is best for the club. Players, for all of their ephemeral worth, are never more important than the club itself. Whatever is best for the club must prevail. In this spirit, despite José Mourinho’s long-standing relationship with Zlatan Ibrahimović, it may be time for the Portuguese coach to make another big decision.
“And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to depart into hell.”
Rant doesn’t often get biblical, but in a summer of tough decisions for Manchester United, it is true that success sometimes necessitates sacrifice. Trimming the fat can be the price of moving forward, making tough calls for the betterment and progression of a club. United might need to address the elephant in the room – Wayne Rooney is the hand that might need to be severed for the body to survive.
For the first time in what feels like a generation there are plenty of options in Manchester United’s attack. Such was the depth of David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal’s mediocrity that each was an architect of some of the most boring football seen at Old Trafford in decades. It is now José Mourinho’s time and the impression is already strong that he will not stand for it. Fun is returning to the red side of Manchester.
The best part of silly season is the speculation. This summer is no different and with United’s apparent bumper transfer kity the rumour mill has been in full swing. Sometimes there is unrealistic hope that United will pull off a mega-deal, such as with tabloid speculation about David Villa. Occasionally, the club is linked with hitherto unheard of ‘wonderkids’ from all parts of the globe, normally being hawked by their agents. Then there’s the best bit – the signings – and there have been three new United players to date, albeit somewhat underwhelming.
But just occasionally there’s a rumour that makes you shudder with fear. Not Liverpool hero Michael Owen moving to Old Trafford, as sickening as that was when it came true. No, worse still is today’s rumour that Sir Alex Ferguson is seriously considering a bid for Inter Milan’s striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
It’s not that the Swede is a bad player. His record is decent. Indeed, he picked up the capocannonieri title as Serie A’s top goalscorer last season with 25 strikes, and bad players don’t do that. Moreover, his performances moved no less a manager than Jose Mourinho to call him “the best player in the world.”
But Mourinho’s assertion was ridiculous – designed more to make headlines than based on reality. At the very top level, when it really matters, Ibrahimovic has normally flattered to deceive. To use a topical parlance, crueller pundits have labelled the striker as little more than a flat-track bully. It’s hard to remember a really big game that Ibrahimovic has won for club or country with a performance his monumental hype justifies. Ibrahimovic’s performance in two Champions League ties against United last season, for example, rarely rose above the average.
Tabloid rumours are not always without cause. The player is certainly looking for a move this summer, although Barcelona has always been Ibrahimovic’s preferred destination. However, with the European Champions only likely make a move if their bid for David Villa falls through, the leaked rumours about United’s apparent interest are given greater context. It would be a huge surprise if Fergie sanctions a bid, especially as it would need to be more £30 million for the forward.
More worrying than his ability, the man himself is particularly unpleasant. Aside from once demanding to be substituted because he couldn’t be bothered (a strop Mourinho gave no credence), perhaps the most abhorrent aspect of Ibrahimovic’s nature is the player huge ego. While the striker is hardly the first – or worst – offender in this department, he is perhaps the least talented player to consider himself the best on the planet. Fergie would do well to steer clear.[TABLE=2]