Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s return to action proves his powers of distraction

By Jonathan White Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/21 22:53:40

If there is one thing that is true of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it's that people will talk about him. And they will probably be doing so because he has just been talking about himself. And most likely he was doing so in the third person. Or referring to himself as a lion.

"Lions don't recover like humans," was what the big Swedish striker had to say after he returned to playing after seven months out with a knee injury. Or at least that is what we all thought. Ibrahimovic himself has said since his return to action that all was not what it seemed. "It was more than the knee but I will keep it personal," was all he would reveal.

Ibrahimovic did add that people would be "in shock" that he was able to play at all if they knew the full extent of what he recovered from. The fact that he appears to have returned in the form that ensured the Swede was Manchester United's top scorer last season, despite missing the run-in, is all the more remarkable.

The 36-year-old striker got 15 minutes against Newcastle United on Saturday and nearly scored with a scissor kick. This cameo overshadowed another teammate returning from injury, which is not bad considering that player was club record signing Paul Pogba and the midfielder put in a man-of-the-match performance after two months on the sidelines.

Ibrahimovic's first appearance of the season also overshadowed fellow ­striker Romelu Lukaku who scored for the first time in seven games on Saturday. There has been much talk as to what the Swede's return means for the Belgian who has replaced him in Manchester United's No.9 shirt. Lukaku was ­shunted out to the right wing on Ibrahimovic's entrance while there has been speculation that the new owner of the No.10 shirt may play in a No.10 role this season.

To play a 36-year-old who has returned from a career-threatening injury over the summer's star signing would be madness, while the accepted wisdom is that the pair could not play together at the front of the attack. But Ibrahimovic needs to get used to not being the main man.

Monday saw the first time since 2007 that Ibrahimovic was not named the Swedish ­player of the year. After 10 wins in a row and 11 overall, Ibrahimovic has finally handed the mantle over to the man who has replaced him as the ­captain of his country, Andreas Granqvist.

Of course Granqvist's achievement has been overshadowed by Ibrahimovic in much the same way that, when the Sweden side won their playoff against Italy last week to qualify for next summer's World Cup in Russia, all talk turned to whether this would mean a return from international retirement for Ibrahimovic.

Sweden coach Janne Andersson was understandably dismissive in the immediate aftermath of qualifying. But it's a question that is not going to go away any time soon, much like Ibrahimovic himself.

The author is a Shanghai-based freelance writer. jmawhite@gmail.com


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