Zlatan Ibrahimvoic has taken the red half of Manchester by storm, notching three goals in as many Premier League matches. New Paddy Power football ambassadors Didi Hamann & Paul Ince say the Swede is the real deal.
Didi Hamann: Manchester United players won’t get frustrated with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s lack of running. You don’t carry Zlatan. He carries you. You work for him and he will score goals for you. It works both ways, and United as a team will reap the rewards. Zlatan has won the league everywhere he’s gone – and now he can win it in England.
If any player is to score in Saturday’s Manchester derby, it’ll be him. He’s a big game player and Jose Mourinho is the reason that he is at Old Trafford. As a player, Ibra oozes confidence, and Mourinho will big him up so much that he will enter the pitch on derby day feeling 15 feet tall.
Paul Ince: I think when you play with Man United you’ve got to have an ego. I’ve seen ‘Zlats’ talking about the perception people have that he is arrogant. Fine. When you play for the best teams in the world, you have to be arrogant. You have to believe that you’re the best player, otherwise you wouldn’t be at Man United or Man City or any of the elite European clubs.
We had massive egos during my time at the Theatre of Dreams. Roy Keane, Bryan Robson, Peter Schmeichel, Steve Bruce, Mark Hughes, myself – you could go through the whole team. It’s how the gaffer controls those egos in the dressing room that’s important. The challenge is channelling all that self-belief and making it work for the team.
It’s something Sir Alex Ferguson was incredible at. In today’s game you don’t have that many egos, but Wayne Rooney and ‘Zlats’ certainly do, and it’s up to Mourinho to manage them – especially as Jose has an ego of his own.
Got the balls?
DH: If anybody has the balls to drop Rooney, it will be Mourinho. If Jose feels that somebody else does a better job in that position, the gaffer won’t hesitate. He said he won’t play Rooney in centre midfield, which is absolutely right.
He’s played as a centre forward all his life, so if he can’t do a job there anymore I don’t see any other position for him at Manchester United – or England for that matter.
PI: I think it’s an insult to Rooney playing him in midfield. He is the greatest goal scorer for England and he’s only three goals shy of being the greatest goal scorer for Manchester United – so why do you want to play him anywhere else?
He has always been a clever player, but midfield is not about getting the ball and spraying it 40 yards out wide with a Hollywood pass. You have got to track people, you have got to tackle and you have got to win the battles in there.
Rooney hasn’t got the mentality of a centre midfield player to go up against the likes of Didi or myself. We would simply overrun him.
DH: Look at Rooney’s physique compare to Zlatan. Ibrahimovic is still ripped – he certainly doesn’t look like a 34-year-old. He looks like a bronzed Adonis! Usually you’d say a centre forward at his age is past his best. Not Zlatan. Yes, he’s probably lost a yard of pace, but that’s just one element of the game.
Zlatan can outmuscle people, he can score with his head, he can shoot from range – and he can still do a massive job. He scored an incredible amount of goals in France – 113 goals in 122 league games – and that’s usually considered a defensive league.
Imagine what he will do in the Premier League!
PI: Zlatan is a different beast to Rooney. Wayne’s going to be one of these players – and he won’t mind me saying it – that when he finishes playing football, he’s going to lose his conditioning and go quite big. He’s a big-boned lad, he was when he was a teenager bursting onto the scene. Ibrahimovic however, is still in incredible shape.
The only problem with the two working as a pair is they’ve got a tendency to both want to come towards the ball. Sergio Aguero and Diego Costa want to get in behind the defence but that’s not either Rooney or Ibrahimovic’s style. Mourinho has always looked at Zlatan playing up top, ahead of Rooney and that’s how I think they’ll start in Saturday’s derby.