Has Zlatan Ibrahimovic brought a winning pedigree to Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United? Plus a look at Serie A’s talents and Arsenal’s future in this week’s Monday Verdict.
Zlatan providing United with the right pedigree
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a winner, some things never change. Their was an air of inevitability as he was on hand to power home in the closing stages to hand Manchester United a 3-2 win in the EFL Cup final.
The goal seemed to be almost slow motion scripture, with an otherwise quiet Anthony Martial getting the ball to Ander Herrera, who found the unmarked Swede with precision.
Ibrahimovic has established himself as United’s talisman since his arrival last summer, but we shouldn’t have really expected anything else from the 35-year-old given his track record. This is 32nd major honour as a player. Some of the biggest European clubs won’t even get near that amount.
His role in United’s success on the day cannot be understated as despite going through quiet spells, he continued to shout orders from the frontline and help organise the players behind him before having the final say in true Zlatan style.
Talking to ITV after the game, Ibrahimovic summed up the feeling of the day: “Special? What could be more special than this trophy?
“It is my second trophy with the club and after seven months we have two trophies and I am happy, this is why I came, I came to win and I’m winning, it is all about bringing the club back to where it belongs and that is winning trophies.”
Sometimes, even under Jose Mourinho, Manchester United have a knack of looking low on confidence. The former PSG man may have scored 20 goals in his last 22 games, implying he carries the team on his back, but in truth his contribution is about so much more than end product.
For a man who is supposed to be coming towards the end of his career, Ibrahimovic still covers a lot of ground, plus the defensive ethos he is willing to apply when his team are in the lead is testament to both his football IQ and commitment to the cause.
Ibrahimovic may have to share some of the headlines with Southampton’s own star front-man in Manolo Gabbiadini, but ultimately he won’t have to share a winners medal.
Calcio – A blast from the past
In the 1990s it was said the calcio (i.e. the Serie A) ruled the world of football. All the best players were there; the lines of Gullit, Rijkaard, Maldini, Van Basten, Baresi, and that’s just the red-and-black half of Milan.
It might be fair to say that Italian football has somewhat regressed since then. Italian clubs have only won three Champions League titles in the last two decades having been on top of the European scene in the glory days of the 1980s and 90s.
Serie A sides appearing in 12 of 16 finals during its most dominant spell, something which seems a far cry now given that Juventus are the only team who has made what could be considered “strides” in the Champions League.
However, football hipsters should perhaps turn their eyes back towards the Mediterranean as Serie A is on the rise once again. A crop of young and talented players are setting the division alive, and some of the biggest clubs in the world are taking notice.
The likes of Andrea Belotti, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Daniele Rugani, Paolo Dybala, Franck Kessie, Federico Chiesa, Pedro Pereira; the list goes on.
All of the above are considered by many to be part of the group leading the calcio resurgence. In truth, all of those players could also make their way overseas in the not to distant future, but how much of this could be down to how the coefficient of the league changes over the next two or three seasons.
The key with Serie A in terms of competitiveness seems to be to have the “big” teams all firing consistently; so the likes of Juventus, Roma, Milan, Inter, Fiorentina, Lazio and Napoli all up there competing. Over the past four years in particular the Milan sides for example have slipped off the face of the earth in terms of European relevance.
Even Parma and Sampdoria were considered elite clubs in the 1990s, a testament perhaps to how much football has changed, with the former now fighting their way up the lower leagues after liquidation and the latter flirting with the drop on occasion recently.
In hindsight, the decline of Italian football was probably started by the 2006 Italian football scandal, something which not only changed the way people looked at the league but also drove players away due to the lack of competition (as Inter racked up five consecutive titles).
Crespo, Shevchenko, Trezeguet, Ronaldinho, Vieri , Donadoni, Zinedine Zidane, Roberto Baggio, Del Piero, Pirlo, Totti – those days are gone.
Higuain, Nainggolan, Insigne, Icardi, Dzeko, Kalinic, Hamsik, Bernardeschi, Alves, Marchisio, Bacca, Bonaventura – those days are here now.
Next time Serie A is on TV, give it a watch. You might be hooked just like it’s 1996 all over again.
Arsenal need to follow Man City’s lead over Wenger replacement
So much has been written about Arsenal and who they should get to replace Arsene Wenger, that it’s becoming difficult to separate fact from fiction when it comes to choosing the Frenchman’s replacement.
So ingrained is Wenger into Arsenal’s history that life after the Frenchman will feel totally surreal for all associated with Arsenal – but change shouldn’t necessarily be feared, but actually embraced at Arsenal.
Last January, Manchester City caused something of a stir and broke with ‘English tradition’ by announcing months before the season had finished that Manuel Pellegrini was to be replaced by Pep Guardiola in the summer.
While some observers felt that the early announcement derailed Man City’s title chances somewhat, I did admire City for being open and honest about the situation and for putting the speculation to bed early. (I also think Guardiola had had a big say on City’s transfer dealings the previous summer, particularly with the signing of Kevin De Bruyne, who in years gone by would almost certainly have moved within Germany to Bayern).
However, I think there’s more gained from an early announcement. Should Arsenal go down this road, I think the club would have several key gains, not least it would end supporter unrest and possibly help persuade the likes of Alexis Sanchez to make firm his plans on his future.
There’s also the small matter that Arsenal’s top targets will also attract interest from other clubs, with Sunday’s report that Barcelona will battle the Gunners for Masimiliano Allegri this summer providing evidence of that.
And with Arsenal’s board often blamed for the club’s stagnation, an early announcement on Wenger’s successor would be least silence the critics who claim the Gunners lack a long-term strategy.
The flip side to all the speculation on Wenger’s successor, however, is that the Frenchman could yet sign a new deal and extend his stay at Arsenal. If that’s the case, so be it. A growing proportion of the supporters may not be happy, but at least it will end the speculation over their manager next season and allow the club to move forward with their plans.
West Brom for Europe? Bournemouth down?
It was a tale of contrasting fortunes in the Premier League on Saturday as West Brom defeated Bournemouth 2-1 at The Hawthorns.
The result meant the Baggies remained in eighth place – on the coat-tails of Everton – while closing the gap on Manchester United and Liverpool above them.
While the Cherries slipped deeper into relegation trouble with their fourth Premier League defeat in a row meaning they are now just five points off safety.
If Tony Pulis’ West Brom side could leapfrog the Toffees before the end of the season then seventh place could be enough to land a European place, that’s assuming that the winners of the domestic cup competitions are already qualified for Europe.
Realistically they won’t be catching United or Liverpool, however, finishing above Ronald Koeman’s side looks attainable with only four points separating the sides and with the Toffees hosting West Brom on March 11.
The major doubt for the Baggies, though, is their inability to take points off the top sides this campaign, with six of the top seven teams still to play before the end of the season.
39 of West Brom’s 40 points have come from teams below them and, with only 12 games remaining, their record against the big boys will have to improve if they want Europe next season.
With only one win in 10 Premier League matches, Bournemouth are now looking down rather than up following an impressive start to the campaign.
Following the defeat to West Brom, Eddie Howe said: “I believe in the players, I am not afraid to face it head on, we are in a relegation battle until the point we are safe.”
Their win over Leicester in early December had the Cherries in eighth position but over two months later they are only five points better off and in severe need of a bit of luck.
The fact they have to play fellow strugglers Leicester, Sunderland and Middlesbrough in their final five games should be enough to get them over the line.
Anyone questioning Howe’s ability to rescue the situation should be rightly shot down but there is no doubting the South Coast side are in a sticky situation.