Talking Soccer: Ibrahimovic brace shows importance of the big man

Manchester United's Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates with the trophy after his side won the League Cup Final soccer match by beating Southampton 3-2 at Wembley Stadium, London, Sunday Feb. 26, 2017. (Nick Potts/PA via AP)

Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Almost anyone who has paid any attention to soccer in the past 15 years is sure to know the name and skill of the Swedish giant. Despite his remarkable career so far, there were still many who did not believe the striker would be able to perform at Manchester United due to his age and the reputation United has had in recent years of ruining great players. Watching Ibrahimovic in England this year proved the opposite, however, and his two goals in the EFL Cup Sunday, including a game winner in the 87th minute, show that he is just the type of player that the Red Devils needed for their lackluster offense.

After an impressive 38 goals and 13 assists in his 2015-2016 campaign with French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain, the subpar five goals scored last season showed many that the Swedish forward was growing old and unable to handle the workload of the top leagues in the world. Although Edison Cavani was starting to impress more than Ibrahimovic in France, many were surprised when he left the team he had led since the 2012 season in order to join Manchester United on a free transfer. Every team Ibrahimovic has joined since Ajax in 2001 has managed to win their respective leagues with him on the team, so when a man with the personality and stature of a legend came to United, it was expected that the opinion would be split between him dominating the league or falling off (as many supporters would hope).

However, the Swedish superstar has only had one objective in mind: to score as many goals as possible for a team deeply in need of them. He started in the first game he played for United, scoring a goal in a 2-1 win against defending champions Leicester City in the Community Shield. He would score more in his first two Premier League fixtures, with a goal against Bournemouth week one and another two against Southampton. The goal scoring has not stopped from Ibrahimovic either, scoring 15 times and assisting four times in the league with another four goals scored in the EFL Cup.

His 26 goals across all competitions for Manchester United points to the fact Ibrahimovic has done what no other addition to the team has been able to do in the past few years: pull tough wins out and score goals when nobody else on the team could be bothered to. The fight shown by the striker has impressed pundits and competition alike and given a clear picture that he is not afraid of a league in which many said he would struggle. This is shown by the fact that while Ibrahimovic has scored over 25 goals in all competitions and 15 in the league, not a single other player on the team has managed to reach double digits in scoring.

It is ironic that, despite all of the money spent by the club in past years to rebuild after Sir Alex Ferguson left the team, the brightest spot would be an addition by free transfer. While the club spent over 100 million pounds on Paul Pogba who has been somewhat of a reasonable disappointment this season, the Swede has shown that money isn’t everything. After the EFL Cup Final yesterday, Paul Pogba even joked to reporters saying that his game-winning ability is the reason the club bought him, to which Ibrahimovic responded, “Bought him? I came for free, they bought you!”

The reason he is such a large addition to the team is not merely his talent and skill, but the personality and courage he brings to the team. Gary Neville of Sky Sports spoke about his talent on Monday Night Football, saying, “Over the last three years, United has lacked personality and character. In him [Ibrahimovic] they’ve got someone who believes and does everything he says he’s going to do.”

Winning games in the 87th minute on a beautiful header is what Ibrahimovic does, and it looks unlikely that he is going to stop doing it on a Manchester United team which is historically known for pulling out late goals to secure results. Whether or not Zlatan moves on from United after his contract ends this season is unknown, but what is certain is that he is carrying the team at the moment and will continue to do so while his legendary figure stands at the front of the United offensive.


Joe Burns is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at joseph.burns@uconn.edu.