Zlatan Ibrahimovic maintained his prolific form scoring twice to win Manchester United the EFL Cup on Sunday, but he has been criticised this season.
The 35-year-old has now scored 26 times in 38 appearances for United since his free-transfer arrival from PSG this summer and his clinical finishing at Wembley was the main reason for United’s 3-2 League Cup final win over Southampton.
Generally though the big Swede has been a revelation and Mourinho has urged United fans to camp outside his house in order to persuade him to sign a 12-month contract extension at Old Trafford.
However, Ibrahimovic has been criticised by several former players and now pundits, including former United players Michael Owen and Paul Scholes.
In July 2016, in reaction to Ibrahimovic’s signing, Scholes said:
“We don’t know about Zlatan. He is 34 and probably going to play only for a year. Okay, he is a fit lad,” Scholes told Sport Witness.
“I think with Ibrahimovic it is, he was playing in a team of PSG and they created a lot of chances. It was easy for him to score goals in that league.
“This Manchester United team isn’t as good as the PSG team. It might be in time to come. He is going to have to do more for himself in the Manchester United team. More than he did at PSG.”
A couple of months later, former France forward Christophe Dugarry questioned Zlatan’s movement:
“Ibra is a cone. People talk about his stats… but he’s a cone,” Dugarry said on his RMC radio show.
“When you see Zlatan’s matches, it’s not possible to do that. It’s English football, it goes at 2,000 kilometres an hour.”
And in September 2016, after Ibrahimovic scored the winner for Manchester United against Zorya Luhansk at Old Trafford, Owen said:
“His movement disappoints me a bit. He just stands a lot,” Owen said on BT Sport.
“Because of his height he gets away with it. There was no movement from him.
“He just tends to stand at the back post and wait for the ball.
“There were a few crosses tonight and he stayed in the same position.”
Owen reinforced his disapproval of the big striker again in November 2016:
“He’s definitely a stop-stgap striker isn’t he,” said Owen on Thursday night.
“He’s good but we’re talking Manchester United, you need to be one of the best strikers in the world to [be] the regular striker here.
“Jose Mourinho didn’t think the current crop were ready [when he arrived]. Rashford: not ready; Wayne Rooney: probably saw him as a No 10; Martial: didn’t see him as a striker. So [Zlatan] is a stopgap.
“A little bit like a few seasons ago when Robin van Persie was just brought for the one or two seasons [so]…they can find someone else on the market or some young kid can come through.”
And Paul Scholes agreed with Owen’s analysis, and added that Ibrahimovic should be acting as mentor for the likes of Marcus Rashford.
“He’s [Ibrahimovic] an athlete and a fit lad. He’ll be good to have around the place, for someone like Marcus Rashford to learn from. If at 36 years of age he’s going to be the main striker, then no I don’t see that,” Scholes said.
“When this club was successful – when I was playing, when Michael was playing – we always had three or four brilliant centre forwards. As special as he has been over his career, and as special as he is now, I don’t think he should be the main one.”
And in December 2016, Mourinho admitted he was surprised at the number of games Ibrahimovic has played.
“No, I didn’t expect it. I was expecting in the Europa League to give him a different situation but we put ourselves in a difficult situation losing the first match at Feyenoord and then every match became important, including the last one.
“We communicate and exchange ideas about his situation, his feelings and up to now he is feeling great.”
While Saints boss Claude Puel, ahead of the cup final on Sunday, admitted the striker doesn’t move much:
“He doesn’t run a lot but always with a good run, with good play, good gestures. It is fantastic to see him.
“We’ll see if Jack starts this game. But for me of course I’m confident with the player, with the squad. I saw at our training camp in Spain very good concentration, very good spirit, quality in the training sessions.”