You don’t buy a Ferrari to drive it like a Fiat, a brash Zlatan Ibrahimovic once screamed at then Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola. Unhappy with his role – playing second fiddle to Lionel Messi – Ibrahimovic has been difficult to keep happy throughout his career.
Ibrahimovic is expected to announce his next club on Tuesday along with the launch of his clothing brand. The Swede is also expected to sign for Manchester United in what would be one of the worst kept secrets in football.
Anthony Martial is one of a number of United players who is welcoming the 34-year-old to Old Trafford but in the case of the French forward, there could be a cause for concern.
The young Frenchman ended the season poised to become the man at Manchester United like so many before him. Ryan Giggs, Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney. Yet he could return playing second fiddle to a man who while a genius on the ball is well known for being rather self absorbed.
Ibrahimovic throughout his career has always felt that the team should revolve around him. No doubt he is one of the best players in Europe and in his earlier years teams have been constructed to work with his strengths and cover what few weaknesses he has. However, last season ended with Manchester United in prime position to build around a sensation of their own in Martial.
Martial burst onto the scene with a sensational solo goal against Liverpool. The 19-year-old went on to be one of few bright spots in Louis van Gaal’s reign as he ended the 2015/16 season on the cusp of being a genuine superstar.
While he occupied the left hand side for the majority of the season the arrival of Ibrahimovic could well see Martial’s rise to stardom stutter – for a year at least. Marcus Rashford’s progress also.
It was clear that the former Monaco front man was becoming the star of the new Manchester United. Like Wayne Rooney before him, Martial could symbolise a new era at Old Trafford. In 2004 Sir Alex Ferguson paid around £30m for an exceptionally talented forward and years later it could be argued that it was the best £30m ever spent in football.
The budding superstar commanded a similar fee – depending on which reports you believe – and has flashed similar abilities of the 18-year-old Rooney. Rooney soon became the heart of the Man United team along with Cristiano Ronaldo and formed one of the deadliest front lines Europe has ever seen along with Carlos Tevez.
Martial possesses a similar ability and will blossom into just as formidable player if the team is constructed around him as it once was with Rooney.
Ibrahimovic will enter Old Trafford as Jose Mourinho’s guy. The pair have a bond stronger than most brothers. Hardly a surprise when you consider their respective personalities. Martial, as talented as he is, is not Mourinho’s guy. He is yet to build up the former Chelsea boss’ trust and that counts for a lot in a Jose Mourinho team.
We have seen talented players such as Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bryune suffer and ultimately be exiled due to Mourinho’s lack of faith in their ability. The pair have since gone on to become two of the most sought after talents in world football but it was Mourinho’s show – as it always is.
Martial made United tick with his directness and pace down the left hand side giving defenders nightmares. His injury time winner against Everton in the F.A. Cup semi-final was the kind of moment in time which all young sensations have. Will Martial’s effectiveness and boldness on the ball suffer with the demand to cater to Ibrahimovic’s ego?
Manchester United fans are excited about the arrival of the legendary Swede and they have a right to be. But for all his goal scoring prowess there are a selection of Red Devils supporters than have forgotten about how much of a prima donna he can be. Edinson Cavani, now settled with life at PSG, once had huge issues having arrived at the club as the most feared striker in Europe following his time at Napoli only to find himself out of position and pandering to Ibrahimovic up front.
Ibrahimovic possesses a lifetime of football experience but has never been one to mentor. A man who first and foremost looks after his own interests and expects the rest of the team to fall in line. Such an attitude will shackle United’s French sensation and even if it is only for a year we have seen what a draining of confidence can do. Memphis Depay and Angel Di Maria are perfect examples from within the club.
Manchester United have always been a club that have made young superstars the hub of their team. Sir Alex constructed a team around the class of ’92 and later around Ronaldo and Rooney waving in a new age of success. Perhaps that United is well and truly dead and buried as the era of short term success takes over.
While Ibrahimovic is the star name – Martial is the longer term option. There has never been a signing more representative of the era Manchester United occupy. A short term signing for short term success.