Can Zlatan really be Mourinho’s Cantona at Man Utd?

Date published: Tuesday 14th June 2016 9:15

Cantona and Ibrahimovic: Have a lot in common, says Keane

With Zlatan Ibrahimovic expected to join Manchester United this summer, Roy Keane likened the Sweden star to Eric Cantona. Can Ibra really be the new Eric?

Keane – never one to lavish praise on anyone who didn’t deserve it, or often those who do – had some very flattering words for Ibrahimovic when he was asked about the prospect of the 34-year-old joining United this summer.

Former captain Keane, who spent 12 years at Old Trafford, drew a comparison between Ibrahimovic and one of his former team-mates, United icon Cantona.

“Of course Ibrahimovic is a good fit for United, he’s a good player.

“They’re big characters, clearly, whatever you say about Cantona, he was a popular lad, and I get the impression Zlatan is the same.

“Whatever about his playing career, you hear from his team-mates and he seems to be a bit of a character, and you can see that in the way he plays.

“It’s good to see that, because there’s a lack of characters out there, and he certainly is that. On top of all that, he’s a very, very good player.”

Given all that Cantona achieved and inspired at Old Trafford, Keane’s comments are likely to further excite United fans who are already anticipating the arrival of Zlatan. But should Ibra complete his move as expected, how does he really compare to the Red Devils legend?



Hashtags weren’t in vogue when Cantona strutted into Old Trafford, but the Frenchman timed his arrival perfectly. United were 26 years without a title and still reeling from having the First Division Championship snatched from their grasp by Cantona’s Leeds the previous season. After an indifferent start to the 1992-93 season, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were eighth in the table when the manager made a cheeky enquiry to Leeds over Cantona’s availability. United lost only two further games throughout the rest of the season after Cantona shook the place up, helping to secure the first ever Premier League title.

Despite having leaders like Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce, Peter Schmeichel and Mark Hughes around the squad, Ferguson still United would benefit from Cantona being allowed to set his example. Now, regardless of  Jose Mourinho’s arrival, United are crying out for a similar impact signing, with the playing squad desperately lacking the type of characters who occupied the dressing room that Cantona inspired.

There is only so much provoking and cajoling that Mourinho can do from the touchline and on the training ground. The players, more so today that in the early 1990s, need a figurehead on the pitch and the new manager knows the squad he inherited simply does not have one. Mourinho will push from the bench be he needs Zlatan to pull from the front, like Cantona dragged the best out of his United team-mates.


Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Winning mentality

Zlatan will walk into a dressing room with numerous title winners. Seven of Mourinho’s new squad won the Premier League under Ferguson, while the likes of Mata, Schweinsteiger and Blind have plenty of medals to put on the table. Cantona joined a squad without a domestic title winner in it, one that had ‘bottled’ it the previous season, to Cantona’s advantage. But it still seems that Zlatan’s example is needed more now than Cantona’s then.

Since Mourinho’s arrival, many ex-Reds have spoken about the need for Mourinho to re-impose a winning mentality at Old Trafford, with some, including Keane, not overly enamoured with the Portuguese but willing to accept that he has the required mindset. Ibrahimovic brings the same.

No one would dispute Ferguson’s credentials before he won his first title for United, but Cantona’s arrival made all the difference. As Peter Schmeichel put it:

“He changed the mentality and changed the way of everything.”

Mourinho needs Ibrahimovic in much the same way. United have lots of fine players, tidy technicians who can play sublime football when they are allowed to do so. But they, like many of their Premier League rivals, lack the killer instinct required at the very highest level of the world game. Ibrahimovic undoubtedly possesses that, which he credits to Fabio Capello, and also Mourinho:

“He turned me from a cat into a lion, dragged things out of me at Inter that no one had done before.”

It’s Zlatan’s turn to repay the favour by working some of the same magic on his prospective new team-mates.


Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Will not leave Sweden camp

‘Bit of a boy’ with an ego

You might think from the bravado and the hype around Ibrahimovic – much of it self generated – that it’s always all about Zlatan. Of course, such a persona suits Ibra and the agendas of the people around him. But much of it is just for show.

Listen to many of the players who’ve won medals alongside Ibrahimovic and they will speak of the driven winner who puts side before self – much like Cantona. Of course, Ibrahimovic says that of himself too: “Wherever I have played, I have won. But I only feel satisfied if my team-mates, the fans, everyone is happy. I have a big heart,” he told the BBC. On the same theme, he said this to ESPN:

“I would be nothing without the team and my team-mates. I am playing with very good players, players who respect me. I respect them. Respect is a very important notion for me. You can’t do well if there is no respect. We work hard every day to reach the same goals and objectives. Everything comes with hard work.

Like Cantona, wherever he has played, Ibrahimovic has left behind many friends because of his attitude.

David Luiz simply says, “you know, this guy is brilliant,” whereas Thiago Motta was happier to go into detail about how PSG could possibly replace Ibrahimovic.

“Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar? They are very important players, who make a difference on the pitch. But I’d like to see if they can behave as leaders, as did Ibra. If not, we risk going backwards.”

Even Keane is willing to overlook the bullsh*t, as he’d probably put it, because he recognises the grafter in Ibrahimovic. “He looks a bit of a boy. Do you know what that means in Cork? I will try to explain it to you later. You’ll have to Google it. Bit of a boy, one you want to be in the trenches with.”

Ibrahimovic has also enough self-awareness to recognise that he has to adapt his game – and his body – as he approaches his 35th birthday, which this article on The Set Pieces explains.


Eric Cantona Class of 92

A good influence?

One of the biggest concerns voiced about the probable recruitment of Ibrahimovic surrounds Marcus Rashford. Some fear that the veteran’s arrival will stunt the progress of the 18-year-old. Surely, though, a season under Ibrahimovic’s wing would serve Rashford better in the long term?

One of the few positives for last season was the emergence of the likes of Rashford, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Guillermo Varela, with a few more coming up through the ranks behind them. Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw and Andreas Peirera also are only 20 and Ibra can help them in the same way the likes of the Class of ’92 looked up to Cantona.

In his autobiography, Gary Neville explained the awe around Cantona.

“None of us got to know Eric well, although there was a vast, massive respect for him. He had massively high standards; he was a perfectionist. But because it was Eric, you didn’t feel belittled, it just made you strive to do better. We were desperate to impress him.”

Ibrahimovic shares Cantona’s work ethic: “You need the hunger to be a better player. That’s when I feel I have accomplished something, when I learn new things. I demand new things and to learn and to work hard on the pitch.”

HIs international team-mate, John Guidetti, certainly backs up Ibrahimovic’s claim.

“He is fantastic, great. The way he speaks with all the younger players, the way he demands quality, it is a true pleasure to play with him.

“There’ll never be another Zlatan: he’s a one-off. The way that he talked and behaved has inspired me.”

At club level, PSG team-mate Maxwell is similarly impressed and says of their young prospects:

“They can use Ibrahimovic as an example – he works and trains each day like it was his first.”

Like Cantona, Ibrahimovic doesn’t suffer mediocrity well, from himself or anyone around him. United’s great teams have always been full of players who drive each other on from the expectations of one another, but the feeling among many fans is that the current squad has gone soft – on themselves and those who stand in their way. Mourinho can drag the best out of players but United need a presence like Ibrahimovic who, in a similar way to Keane, will demand nothing the best from his new team-mates, but in return, will also be willing to go to war for them. Perhaps that’s why Keane likes Ibra: they share a lot of similar qualities and such an influence can only be positive for United’s young players.

Roy Keane Eric Cantona

Creative force

United, like most Premier League sides in the early 1990s, played a straightforward 4-4-2 and Cantona formed a productive partnership with Mark Hughes. Either were equally comfortable leading the line, but more often than not, it was Cantona who would drop off into the spaces between the opposition lines.

Cantona scored nine goals in a half a season’s worth of appearances after joining in late November, matching the tallies of Ryan Giggs and Brian McClair, but his creativity gave United a new dimension, with the Frenchman creating 16 goals.

Ibrahimovic similarly is more than a goalscorer, with the Swede having assisted 13 Ligue 1 goals for PSG last season, though it is his strike rate that will excite United fans most. The Swede notched a stunning 38 goals in 31 league appearances – more than United’s top six Premier League scorers last season.

Mourinho’s teams generally play with a physical, robust centre-forward, which is why the new manager wants Ibrahimovic. Rashford finished the season through the middle for United and while he will surely thrive in that role long term, more immediately, Mourinho needs the finished article. Rashford will get minutes in his preferred position, though Mourinho may have plans for him in a wide role on the right, which would enhance his development as an all-round striker. The prospect of Ibrahimovic rampaging through the middle with Martial and Rashford flying either side of him is one United fans would be forgiven for salivating over.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic PSG

The new Cantona?

Keane’s comparison is a fair one and Mourinho will certainly believe Ibrahimovic can have a similar impact. The Swede has less time than Cantona to build a legacy, given he will likely sign a one-year deal with the option for a further year, but United have craved an icon since Robin van Persie’s glorious 2012-13 season, and before him, Cristiano Ronaldo.

In signing Ibrahimovic, United have been accused of taking a short-term view, which itself is a short-sighted viewpoint. It was Cantona’s signing that paved the way for Ferguson’s first Premier League title and Van Persie’s arrival led directly to his last. Asking Ibrahimovic to follow Cantona and Van Persie’s immediate title successes may not be fair given United seem further off the pace now than in either 1992 or 2012. But as a serial winner working with Mourinho again, he certainly can be a catalyst for better days at Old Trafford.


By Ian Watson


Do you agree with Ian’s thoughts? What would you expect from Zlatan should he complete his move to Manchester United?

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Home Forums Can Zlatan really be Mourinho’s Cantona at Man Utd?

This topic contains 24 replies, has 13 voices, and was last updated by  mufc 8 months, 1 week ago.

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    Ian Watson

    With Zlatan Ibrahimovic expected to join Man Utd, Roy Keane likened the Sweden star to Eric Cantona. Can Ibra really be the new Eric?

    [See the full post at: Can Zlatan really be Mourinho’s Cantona at Man Utd?]



    depends on what kind of job you mean


    Cantona was a disgrace to his sport, a player who attacked a member of the public and who should have been banned for life from ever playing in the premiership again.
    It is this kind of weakness from authorities in the face of flagrant breaches of all civilised behaviour that helped the general lowering of standards that has lead us towards the abyss that society now faces.
    The fact that he is still so popular in some circles shows us clearly how warped we have become.



    Cantona was a genius. Love him. Knotter stop being so melodramtic for gods sake. He didnt kill any1.



    You make a huge amount of thoughtful and well argued posts Knotter. The above ain’t one of em!

    Cantona was a one off, a genius footballer, a leader and trailblazer. The ‘member of the public’ (as you so sweetly put it) he attacked was behaving like a complete twat and deserved everything he got.

    Eric is a legend. It’s the people like your ‘member of the public’ who, in my eyes, have dragged society towards the abyss, so entitled are they in their right to abuse and taunt from apparent safety.

    Keyboard warriors, people who shout and gesticulate from the safety of their cars before driving off with their hearts racing, hoping their victim doesn’t catch them at the next lights – these are the spineless, honourless amoebas who drag us into the ooze.

    Leave Eric alone – if we had more like him we’d be in better shape 🙂

    And btw, I love Zlatan, and expect him to be superb for United if and when he arrives. He will certainly add an infectious charisma and heart (much like Jose does, at least at the beginning lol). Comparing Ibra to King Eric, however, is like comparing shandy to Special Brew.


    Diabolo Rouge

    @ashcfc. Absolute spot on mate. The guy who Eric kick says something really bad about his mother. Then he flew 2 kicks on him. Eric was disciplined for that action and its ok he was suspended but maybe for some posters it is ok if somebody tell something bad about his family but for some it is not ok. Few years later, when a reporter ask Eric if you regret what you have done regarding the guy, he says no I do not have any regret. I will do it again if he try to talk bad about my family.



    Joey Barton should have been banned for live,Ben Thatcher,probably John Terry,and who
    did Alan Shearer kick,and threatened the FA with blackmail or something!!!!.Michael Ball
    was a nasty piece of work too.


    Johnny Utah

    Correct Knotter, Cantona got off very lightly. Should of been kicked out of the sport. Attacking a fan crosses a line and basicly opened it up for it to happen the other way, a fan attacking a player, like Monica Seles.



    Johnny, but Cantona DID end up before the courts and even spent time in jail….



    Johnny – If he opened it up for it to happen the other way why has it never happened in the 21 years since?! Monica Seles was stabbed in 1993, 2 years before Eric’s incident.

    What Eric did was no worse than some of the two footed challenges that occur on the pitch nowadays. Just becuase it was some loud mouth yob in the stands doesn’t mean he deserved to be banned for life. He was rightly punished for that incident but when he returned he was a model pro who was never even booked again.



    Why feed the trolls!!


    Johnny Utah

    Roygbiv, Cantona wasn’t jailed for the incident.

    Alfie, it’s pathetic you keep crying troll every time anyone has a different option to yours. Is it why you have been fired as moderator?

    MT, assaulting a fan is far different to a bad challenge on the pitch. How can you compare kicking and punching a fan to a mistimed tackle? There is a line and Cantona crossed it.



    Johnny you are a troll my friend. It’s not a difference of opinion, it’s because you are a troll. You must realise what your obsession has turned you in to.


    Johnny Utah


    Haven’t you been fired as a moderator for trolling your own support? Get off your high horse. lol



    No Johnny, not true.

    Haven’t got time for your piffle today, so enjoy your trolling. I’m sure you’ll get some attention from somebody.


    Johnny Utah

    See you later troll. I win!



    Johnny-Get a job,a woman or a sheep mate,find something to do.Lol


    Johnny Utah

    To be fair, you would not catch me trolling my own teams fans, like Alfie was.

    Winning is all I need RB! lol



    Top self confessed trolling my little troll friend. See you in the morrow for your next instalment. Lol


    Johnny Utah

    No problem, Alfietroll, my ex-moderating cherry pie. lol

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