Zlat'll Do Nicely
Something needs to change at Old Trafford
As a character trait, modesty isn’t exactly synonymous with Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The striker doesn’t do humility, so it was unsurprising that the announcement of his looming exit from Paris Saint-Germain was made with such swaggering bumptiousness, on his Twitter account, unmistakably in his words. Zlatan does as Zlatan wants, that has always been his way.
“I came like a king, left like a legend,” he posted, finally confirming his decision to leave the French champions this summer, stirring swirling speculation over his future. Now Manchester United have emerged as the frontrunners in the race to sign the Swedish striker, with the Old Trafford club reportedly offering an initial one-year contract. There will be other suitors – from MLS and China especially – but Ibrahimovic’s potential switch to the Premier League is most compelling.
Big-Heading To Manchester?
Factor in that the 34-year-old could join up again with Jose Mourinho at Man Utd next season and the prospect of Ibrahimovic in England, finally, is an enticing one. But what does it say about the Premier League’s once roaring, now sleeping giants? Is this really the kind of move they should be making?
Financially, signing a 34-year-old striker well into the twilight of his career on a salary of £300,000 a week (as is the reported figure) is questionable. If Louis Van Gaal is still at United for next season the move makes little sense stylistically too, with the Dutchman’s philosophy hardly a good fit for a frontman like Ibrahimovic.
Deeper meaning can be taken from Man Utd’s interest in the Swede, though. The Old Trafford don’t just want Ibrahimovic for his quality as a striker, but for what he would bring as a personality too. For many teams his character might be off-putting, yet for United that is largely why they are making a move.
Manchester United have become so faceless, so devoid of character as a team, they are seemingly willing to hand Ibrahimovic a Premier League record wage just to purchase some. Money can buy you many things and the Old Trafford club are counting on it giving them an identity.
Those who back United’s move for Ibrahimovic claim the Swede could be a modern-day Eric Cantona, but even by Le King’s standards Zlatan is on another level of egotism altogether. The PSG striker unashamedly considers himself to be more important than any of the clubs he has played for, no matter how big. Ibrahimovic is a figurehead with a big head. He makes Floyd Mayweather look humble.
It’s true that Man Utd – not so long ago the most characterful club in football under Sir Alex Ferguson – are in desperate need of an identity, with Van Gaal falling miserably over the past two years to impose his own style. The Old Trafford have become the antipathy of everything they were once renowned for.
United are now boring – boring to watch and boring in their off the pitch tedium too. The episode concerning Van Gaal’s future at the club has become football’s Ross and Rachael, will-they-won’t-they, saga.
But by signing Ibrahimovic the Red Devils would be swinging drastically to the other extreme, merely becoming a circus tent for the Swede’s novelty act. Manchester United’s rivals have drawn much comedy from their decline in recent times and in Ibrahimovic they would be signing a comic who just so happens to be good at football. The striker is such a cartoon character Nike literally turned him into one for a promotion.
Of course, even at the age of 34 Ibrahimovic remains one of the finest goalscorers in European football. With 49 goals in just 51 appearances last season, his pedigree is easy to quantify. In the Premier League he would surely thrive, with English football his final frontier after stints in Italy, France, Netherlands and Spain.
However, Ibrahimovic would be little more than a short term fix for a problem in need of a long term solution. By signing the Swede United would have to concede plenty in the process, detaching themselves further from the club they used to be. Ibrahimovic would undoubtedly give them an identity, but is that an identity they really want for themselves? United certainly have a lot to weigh up before they dare to Zlatan.