“I never left, I just upgraded my number” were the words of Zlatan Ibrahimovic on his return to Manchester United after snubbing interest from LA Galaxy and AC Milan. Jose Mourinho hurriedly quashed any notions that the new number 10 would be a guaranteed starter in the side. Manchester United have beaten West ham, Swansea, Leicester city 4-0, 4-0, 2-0 respectively, are top of the table and look unstoppable. Hence the question that begs to be answered is where will Ibracadabra fit into?. Too many draws in matches that should have been put to bed was the main problem of 2016/2017 season for Manchester United. Oftentimes Manchester United fans complained about Ibrahimovic slowing down their attacks or his lack of pace not giving them enough attacking varieties but the man still banged in 28 goals in 46 appearances, which is a handsome reward for a 35-year-old striker whom many feared would not be able to cope with the pace and power of the English Premier League. Lukaku’s arrival has given Manchester United some added pace up top while maintaining the power and physical presence which has allowed them to swat aside their opponents and he looks set to keep his position as their starting striker.
However Zlatan’s arrival gives Mourinho probably the best backup/bench option in football currently as not many coaches will be able to call upon a man with the talents of a Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Zlatan would give Manchester United an extremely good second choice in a case of an injury or a case of fatigue in Lukaku. We have already seen Mourinho call on Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford from the bench and he’d be satisfied to have seen their impact off the bench. Zlatan would give Mourinho an extra body up front when a target man is needed against teams that tend to sit back and just absorb pressure. At Chelsea, in the 2013/2014 season, we saw teams “Park the bus” against Mourinho and Mourinho simply sent Branislav Ivanovic and Demba Ba up front and whipped in crosses to the big men this tactic was employed and it worked for Chelsea against PSG in the Champions League quarter-final. Last season, we saw Mourinho send on Marouane Fellaini in closing moments to go up top to try to knock headers down for midfield players or try to head goals in, in matches that were tight in the closing stages. This could be the perfect job for a man of Ibra’s aerial prowess. He is a domineering presence in the air and floated in crosses seem to magnet to his head, this would be a perfect plan B.
Also, Zlatan Ibrahimovic could be the perfect target man in a two striker system of any variation ( Ibrahimovic and Rashford, Ibrahimovic and Lukaku, Ibrahimovic and Martial). His job would simply be to hold up play for his partner up top. At 6ft5, he is expected to dominate aerial balls while he has decent enough footwork for balls on the ground and he is very adept at playing with his back to goal. Jose Mourinho is known to favour the 4-2-3-1 formation which only allows for one center forward but having Ibrahimovic would allow Mourinho to switch things up to surprise his opponents. He is also good to have around in case of a burnout to Lukaku who we know loves to use his pace and power. Manchester United will be competing on all fronts for titles and this implies many games as we saw with them last season, towards the end, many cases of injuries and tiredness.
Lastly, Ibrahimovic is a strong presence to have in any dressing room, vast experience, top player and he has won it all (except for the Champions League and any trophy with the National team but who’s checking). He has helped AC milan and PSG to domestic titles and is probably regarded as one of the greatest ever in the game. A man with such a reputation is not the worst to have around motivating the younger ones around. At PSG, Javier Pastore and Marco Verratti pointed out that when mistakes were made, he hurled insults at his teammates to motivate them to do better and although we do not expect him to spew insults at Manchester United, his presence would be highly beneficial for a team looking to return to its golden days. A man whose mental strength is one of the toughest known in modern-day football would be an ideal presence for a team looking to be competing at the highest level. At 35 on the road to recovery from an injury, Ibrahimovic is not expected to be an immediate starter but as an impact substitute, he’d be an immense player to call upon and for his age he won’t disrupt the opportunities of younger players coming through and he also won’t kick up a force to start matches. For all his attributes, Ibrahimovic remains a very sangfroid man who has been a professional all his career and his presence will also help to keep the trio of Romelu Lukaku, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford on their toes.