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EPL 2016/17: Why Zlatan Ibrahimovic will come good for Manchester United

Sagnik Kundu
2.45K   //    03 Nov 2016, 20:33 IST
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored 4 goals in 10 league matches

The world awaited Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s arrival in England with bated breath – this was until the great Swede himself announced that he would play for 20-time English champions Manchester United this season. His arrival meant that the Old Trafford faithful could finally look forward to something spectacular, they could finally believe in someone’s individual abilities – a belief that has been absent since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ibrahimovic did nothing to attenuate the magnitude of the occasion as he claimed to become the ‘God of Manchester.’ Quite clearly, he came in with a reputation. And rightly so. His swagger has shadows of a certain Eric Cantona – after all who would even dream of attempting a back volley from 40-yards out in an International match, let alone scoring in such a fashion.

Also read: Manchester United news: Gary Neville backs Zlatan Ibrahimovic to rediscover form

And if scoring extraordinary goals is only second nature, winning trophies is something like breathing for the 6’5” tall forward – Ibrahimovic was winning league titles left, right and center when Marcus Rashford was yet to start school.

Promising start

Three minutes into his first game wearing United’s number 9 jersey, and he scored with a sensational side-volley. It was only a friendly against Turkish side Galatasaray, but say that to a United fan and be prepared to be smacked right across the face. Many wondered if the Swede, who turned 35 last month, had the desired level of fitness to play in the much more taxing English top division. However, Zlatan being Zlatan proved all of them wrong.

Starting with a towering header in the FA Community Shield final against Leicester City, Ibrahimovic went on to score four goals in his first three competitive fixtures for the Red Devils. After four Premier League fixtures, he had amassed four goals. That is when the drought started.

Goal drought

Ibrahimovic has, since then, failed to find the back of the net despite starting all of United’s league matches. In an age, when single-striker systems are predominant in world football, his drought may have all but ended United’s title hopes this season. The stark truth of the one-up-top ploy adopted by the championship hopefuls is, the centre-forward has to deliver – more so, in Jose Mourinho’s system.

While Manchester United languish eight points behind the table toppers after 10 games, can Ibrahimovic’s goal drought be blamed entirely? It is true that he last scored in the league some five weeks back, but is he the embodiment of United’s woes?

He was signed as Mourinho’s totem – the ideal personification of the Portuguese’ target-man style of attack – who would score the majority of the goals for his side. Something that Didier Drogba did for Mourinho’s Chelsea back in 2005 and 2006. However, having failed to break his drought, questions have been raised whether the Swede is any good in England.

Zlatan has the most shots till now in the Premier League

When was the last time a league contender was spearheaded by a striker who is going on to his 36th year? The fact that Ibrahimovic plied his trade for the last four seasons at Ligue 1 – a league that is much less attritional than the Premier League – does not help his cause.

However, it is not a lack of trying that has resulted in the drought. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has taken 57 shots, the most in the Premier League. In last week’s game against Burnley that ended 0-0, the forward had 12 shots, the most in a single match by any player in the Premier League this season. Yet, he failed to do the most important thing in football – score the all-important goal.

Stats say he will be back

Every striker has a goal drought at some point in his career. Thus abiding, Ibrahimovic has not scored in 593 minutes on the field – his worst run since 2006. This is also the first time he has made six league appearances without scoring since his time with Inter Milan in 2007.

In fact, on taking a look at the statistics, one would find that Ibrahimovic has passed the 30-goal mark in all competitions in each of his last five seasons and scored more than 20 goals for nine seasons in a row at four different clubs. He is a well-oiled goal-scoring machine who consistently averaged more than 2.5 shots from inside the box per 90 minutes in each of his last seven seasons.

SeasonClubShots per 90 mins(in box)
2010-11AC Milan2.7
2011-12AC Milan2.5
2012-13Paris St-Germain2.9
2013-14Paris St-Germain3.1
2014-15Paris St-Germain2.5
2015-16Paris St-Germain3.1

If stats are anything to go by, it can be easily assumed that the Swede will be back to his goal-scoring prowess sooner rather than later. However, if you are one of those people who believe stats are nothing but a mere reflection of a player’s actual capabilities on the field, there is further evidence that Zlatan will be back.

Backing from some big names

Earlier this week, United midfielder Ander Herrera backed his teammate and said, “I think if one player can get back and pass this moment, it’s him (Ibrahimovic) because of his attitude, his character, the way he works.”

France legend Thierry Henry also spoke about how Ibrahimovic’s character is going to help him overcome this phase when he said, "He's going to have to deal with it. I know he has the character and the ability to deal with it but it will be better for him if it happens sooner rather than later."

What is it about the Swede’s character that everyone seems to be going on about? What does he have in himself that others do not?

His attitude is his biggest strength

Ibrahimovic’s character will help him get past this phase

His tale is as interesting as it gets – one of talent triumphing over circumstance. Born to refugees escaping a war-torn Bosnia, he grew up with his alcoholic father after his parents’ divorce. In spite of all the shortcomings, he used his skill and a sizeable dose of ghetto cunning to evade poverty.

From an early age, he was certain that the world has conspired against him to keep him from achieving the desired success, he grated against the authority of every kind. Arrogance has been a part of his character forever, refusing to conform at every stage of life.

Ibrahimovic’s audacity is another of his key aspects – one that has brought all the success in his life. He dismissed one of the best coaches in the world with a withering – “(Pep) Guardiola, he’s a spineless coward,” he said.

He is the footballer who has commanded the highest cumulative transfer value in the world as he has flitted from Malmo to Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and now Manchester United. It took Jose Mourinho – a man “he is willing to kill for” – to lure him to England.

Also read: EPL 2016/17: Jose Mourinho given suggestion to Zlatan Ibrahimovic problem by Alan Shearer

Maybe, he did not arrive earlier despite having offers from Manchester City and other clubs because, as an 18-year-old, he was touted round to Arsenal. Arsene Wenger’s suggestion that he appear for a trial at the Emirates was greeted with, “Trial? But I am Zlatan.”

An evidence of the player’s huge ego ­– with which one would rather not engage – can be found in the concluding assessment in Ibrahimovic’s autobiography which reads, “It was a fairy tale and I was Zlatan Ibrahimovic.”

It is this ego, this attitude, this charisma that makes him unstoppable, even at times such as these. He knows his side needs him to fire and trust me, he will. And when he does, boy, am I waiting for that.

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Sagnik Kundu
I spend every day at office wondering how they got the table through the door.
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