Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s importance to Manchester United can’t be overstated

The English press has finally fallen in love with Zlatan Ibrahimovic. After the Swedish striker scored two goals to help Manchester United beat an unlucky Southampton 3-2 in the EFL Cup final, many reporters ran features on who was the greatest free transfer signing in England. Ibrahimovic got a few mentions (not as many as Sol Campbell, though). Still, to even be in the conversation after so long being labeled a “flat-track bully” or someone who apparently (and wrongly) couldn’t cut it against Premier League opposition must have brought some satisfaction.

Ibrahimovic is like United coach Jose Mourinho in his desperate need for trophies. He could barely believe it when asked if the result would be a good springboard for the rest of the season. For Ibra, the result, and the trophy that followed, was everything. But he is nothing if not a showman and some of his comments after the game only added to his sense of theater. When Paul Pogba, interviewed next to him on the Wembley pitch, said, “That’s why United bought him,” Ibrahimovic, quick as a flash, responded: “They didn’t buy me, I was a free transfer. They bought you!”

To the press after the game, he said: “I look good. I know I look good. I feel fresh. I feel good. I feel like an animal. I feel like a lion. I feel in good shape. I train hard. People who know me from the locker room know that I train very hard. I'm from the old school where they work hard and get what they get from doing the hard work, not like the new school where it is easy to get what you want.”

That’s why United will be hoping that Ibrahimovic activates the extra year on his contract. He has already scored 26 goals in all competitions this season, and it’s scary to think of where United might be without him. Wayne Rooney has scored twice in eight league starts all season, while Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial have scored just three times each. United has lost only one game in its last 26 but remains stuck in sixth in the Premier League (though only two points off fourth).

United doesn’t play like a typical United side; nor does it play (especially in defense) like a typical Mourinho side. At the moment, Ibrahimovic is helping cover up those deficiencies. Mourinho and everyone connected to the club will be praying he stays fit and stays, period, for another year. 

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