Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s short stint at Manchester United will always go down as a ‘what if’.
Ibrahimovic had an instant impact in his 2016/17 season at Old Trafford.
He led United to win the EFL Cup, and towards the Europa League trophy – before his spell was wrecked by an ACL injury.
Zlatan certainly had some difficulties too. But the Swede still scored 17 goals in 28 Premier League matches.
His tally of 28 goals in 46 games has not been surpassed at Old Trafford since – and he only missed out on breaking the 30 goal barrier due to injury.
United gave up on him a bit too easily the following season.
Zlatan was allowed to leave after Jose Mourinho determined he was not needed amid his desire to play regularly. Romelu Lukaku had been signed months earlier.
This didn’t seem like a bad call. There were concerns as to whether he would ever be the same player.
Zlatan was 36, and his plan to move to America for LA Galaxy appeared to represent semi-retirement.
As it happened, United probably could have done with Zlatan at the end of the 2017/18 season.
Romelu Lukaku was injured and missed the FA Cup Final. Not having Zlatan available to call on was a misjudgement, and United lost 1-0.
Reborn in Milan
Zlatan did indeed head to America and scored for fun. He netted 53 goals in 58 games in total.
This brought around some curiosity in Zlatan, one of football’s great competitors.
He wanted to see if he could still cut it in Europe. 11 goals in the second half of last season for AC Milan suggested he could.
Zlatan penned a permanent deal with AC Milan this summer and is in sensational form.
He has netted seven goals in four Serie A games to fire Milan to the top of the division.
What makes his achievements even more impressive is that Zlatan is 39-years-old. Age is just a number to him.
United full-back Diogo Dalot has a front row seat, sent to Milan on loan for the season to play alongside the veteran star.
Zlatan’s Milan sit two points clear at the top of Serie A and face Juventus this weekend.
It is early days and his form could be a flash in the pan, but probably not. Everybody has been waiting and expecting Zlatan’s form to tail off for the past five years. It hasn’t happened yet.
United misjudged him twice, letting him leave fearing he was finished, and then deciding not to sign him in January when a striker was clearly needed.
Solskjaer ended up settling for Odion Ighalo instead and have just brought in Zlatan’s former teammate Edinson Cavani instead.
Cavani may be great, who knows. But Zlatan would have been a great option too, and he was available.
At this point all we can do is sit back and admire his quality. If he leads Milan to their first silverware in over a decade, at the age of 39, it will be one of the great football stories in recent years.
The way he has started, you cannot rule anything out.
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