Cantona's footballing talent was matched by his big ego and on Thursday, 19 years after Cantona’s departure, another man, arguably the man with the biggest ego in the world football, confirmed his arrival at the Old Trafford - Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
In the mid-1990s, Sir Alex Ferguson led a team of Manchester United players and staff for a Batman film premiere. With the occasion being a black-tie event, the Gaffer, the players, and the staff arrived wearing black ties and formal clothes, while one enigmatic character turned up in a cream jacket and red trainers - Eric Cantona. The Frenchman’s footballing talent was matched by his big ego and on Thursday, 19 years after Cantona’s departure, another man, arguably the man with the biggest ego in the world football, confirmed his arrival at the Old Trafford - Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
At 34 years of age, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is no newcomer to European football. 392 goals in 677 games, 28 major titles, including the Eredivisie (Netherlands), Serie A (Italy), La Liga (Spain), and Ligue 1 (France). He has won almost every major title in European club football, except the Champions League and the English Premier League. ‘The Zlatan’ will be in the race for the latter next season after he confirmed his next destination – Manchester United.
At United, he will be joined by his former Inter Milan manager Jose Mourinho, who shares a healthy relationship with the striker. Ibrahimovic played under Mourinho during the 2008-09 season, when the Italian club won the Serie A, with Ibrahimovic scoring 25 goals in the league. The Swede also won the Serie A player of the year during his time under the Portuguese manager.
“A player who gave me as much as Ibra will always be in my heart. He is very special, one of the best strikers in the world,” Mourinho had said.
Although Ibrahimovic is 34 years old, his reunion with Mourinho seems like a marriage made in heaven. The Swede’s recent form shows that he has what it takes to achieve success in the Premier League next season. In four years with the French champions, Ibrahimovic won 12 titles and scored 156 goals in 180 games. In his last season, he scored 50 goals in 51 games – his most prolific ever, to show that he is only getting better with age.
Apart from his pleasant relationship with Mourinho, the Swede is also a good option for the Red Devils to achieve success in the immediate future. United have been in a downward spiral ever since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement and will need Mourinho and Ibrahimovic to click instantly to bring the glory back to Old Trafford. Ibrahimovic can become a Robin Van Persie type signing for United to help them win the title. Van Persie moved from Arsenal to the Red Devils in 2012 and helped United win the Premier League title by scoring 26 goals that season. Although he faded away after the success in the first season, the valuable goals from the Dutchman made the difference to the United side. With Ibrahimovic at the end of his career, expecting him to continue for more than a season will also be optimistic.
The arrival of the Swede will also help youngsters like Antony Martial, Marcus Rashford, and Memphis Depay, with Ibrahimovic's goalscoring prowess taking off the burden of scoring goals from the youngsters. Jose Mourinho is a man known for winning titles and Ibrahimovic is the perfect player for the Portuguese manager, having won league titles in 12 of his last 13 seasons.
But, with big personalities come big problems.
Ibrahimovic’s big ego could help him bring laurels to Old Trafford, but it could also become a disruptive element in the dressing room, as was the case in Barcelona under Pep Guardiola. The 34-year-old striker played under the Spaniard at Barcelona during the 2009-10 season. The Swede had arrived at the Nou Camp as a replacement for Samuel Eto’o, who went the other way to Inter Milan. From day one, it was clear that Ibrahimovic and Guardiola would not be the best of friends, with the mercurial striker not believing in the ‘tiki-taka’ philosophy. The marriage finally ended a year later and the Swede was sent on loan to AC Milan before they made the signing permanent the following year.
If Mourinho lights up a room, Guardiola draws the curtains."
The unpleasant stay at Barcelona left the Swede frustrated and when asked about his relationship with Pep Guardiola, he had said, "When you buy me, you are buying a Ferrari. If you drive a Ferrari you put premium petrol in the tank, you hit the motorway and you step on the gas. Guardiola filled up with diesel and took a spin in the countryside. He should have bought a Fiat."
However, a tussle between Mourinho and Ibrahimovic are unlikely to happen with the Swedish striker openly advocating Mourinho’s philosophy.
“If Mourinho lights up a room, Guardiola draws the curtains. I guessed that Guardiola was trying to match up to him. Mourinho would become a guy I was basically willing to die for," Ibrahimovic had said.
It is clear that Ibrahimovic wants to be the centre of attention everywhere he goes, and Manchester United will be the same. His announcement through Instagram on Thursday also shows that it is Zlatan who decides the club, not vice versa. According to reports, the Swede is being offered a one-year contract by the Red Devils and it is highly unlikely that he will agree to sit on the bench after making the move. So, the young strikes like Rashford and Martial will have to play second fiddle to the Swede at least for a year. Although having an experienced strike at the club will be good for youngsters, their playing time will be limited due to the arrival of the Swede.
There will also be questions about whether his ego will clash with Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney. Rooney has been the focal point of the club after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan’s arrival will certainly take it away from the Englishman. But, his decision to move into midfield from a striker’s position might avoid the clash with Ibrahimovic.
But, one thing we have learned from the story of Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Wayne Rooney is
“Manchester United need great personalities", "At the club, you have to have a big ego, so in normal circumstances, it should work for him", former Manchester United left-back Patrice Evra said about Ibrahimovic’s move to the Red Devils.