Manchester United officially re-signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic months after releasing him after he suffered a gruesome ACL injury
In recent years, Manchester United fans have grown accustomed to watch their side spend big bucks in the transfer window and bring in world-class talent to Old Trafford with the hope to revert to the attacking, devil-may-care brand of football the club became synonymous with under the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson.
This summer, too, more of the same was expected from the Red Devils, and manager Jose Mourinho did not disappoint. He addressed the key areas he felt the club lacked in last season, as he roped in a central defender (Lindelof), a steady holding midfielder (Matic), and a proven Premier League goal scorer (Lukaku).
The second signing, and arguably the most essential one, may have left a sour taste in the mouths of a certain part of the Old Trafford faithful. With Ibrahimovic being released, the club needed to sign a quality replacement, and Mourinho reportedly had his heart set on Atletico Madrid front man Antoine Griezmann.
For months the club were linked to the Frenchman, and it seemed the interest in joining forces was both ways. In his words, he wanted to move to a club with a bigger ambition, and saw Mourinho’s United as the ideal destination for him to shape his career.
Unfortunately, that did not work out as Atletico’s transfer ban was upheld – which barred them from registering any players this summer. With them unable to bring in reinforcements, they decided against letting go of Griezmann, and the forward decided to remain loyal to his club during their spell of misfortune.
This saw Mourinho look elsewhere for an out-and-out striker, and for numerous weeks Real Madrid’s wantaway Spaniard Alvaro Morata looked to be headed to Manchester in the summer. However, due to a disagreement with Los Blancos over the player’s valuation, the United boss turned to Romelu Lukaku.
Despite not being his primary target in the summer, Mourinho has every reason to be happy with the Belgian’s performances at the start of the season. He scored in his first three professional games for the club, and despite missing a penalty in Saturday’s win against Leicester, Lukaku has enjoyed a blistering start to life in Manchester.
One thing that was missing was an adept understudy to fill in the Belgian’s boots should he go through a poor vein of form or possibly suffer an injury that could rule him out for several weeks. Quick to deal with this minor hindrance, Mourinho decided the time was right to re-call Ibrahimovic, and keep Lukaku on his toes for the rest of the campaign.
While it could be argued that Ibrahimovic is not as mobile as Lukaku, and that an ACL injury could diminish his influence on the field, the Swede’s mere presence in the dressing room could be infectious, and his relationship with the players could help him bring the best out of them.
The 35-year-old took Marcus Rashford under his wing last season, and the young Englishman learnt a great deal from the veteran. He now possesses that maturity despite being only a teenager that many experienced players still seem to lack.
Mourinho confirmed that he sees Ibrahimovic return in January, and that is the ideal time when the services of the Swede could be needed the most. Should anything happen to Lukaku until then, either one of Rashford or Martial can play as makeshift number nines, although they both started off playing as strikers.
Come the turn of the year, a tricky run for United will begin. Not only will it spell the start of the FA Cup, and the Champions League knockout stages a month later, it could be a crucial time in the season as teams often drop the pace during that time of the year, particularly due to overexertion and fatigue leading to injuries.
The Premier League fixtures for the Red Devils are a tricky ask, and if last season was anything to go by, United will have to be at their very best if they are to stake a legitimate claim for the league title. Barring a third round FA Cup tie, they have three grueling away fixtures against Everton, Burnley and Tottenham – all of whom are known to be solid at home.
In such games, Mourinho will be looking for some to share the rock in offence with Lukaku, and who better than a player who’s already proven his worth in England and throughout Europe? Ibrahimovic has already formed a great understanding with the United players, and is held in high regard by the manager despite reaching the twilight of his career.
Having two strikers will certainly help United win their first league title since 2013 as on a number occasions last season, Mourinho felt the need for another option. Against the so called lesser-clubs, they failed to get the job done, and a 34-year-old Ibrahimovic played in every game he was fit, and often struggled to offer something different.
It now remains on Mourinho as to how he is going to use Ibrahimovic and Lukaku, and ensure both of them are satisfied with the playing time they are offered. Both players are superstars in their own way, and can arguably strengthen the attacks of any top European club.