KEIR RADNEDGE in PARIS: French purchasers of L’Equipe on Saturday had a surprise. Not only the usual newspaper and its weekend magazine supplement: the package also included a glossy, 44-page magazine proclaiming all the commercial wonders associated with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Not since the days of David Beckham has one footballer melded his personal identity with his own ‘brand’ in such an overtly commercial way. Not even Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Part of the attraction of Ibra for his new club, Manchester United, is that he reclaims the gloss and glitz which have faded from Old Trafford since ‘the boy Beckham’ headed off to Madrid, Paris, Milan and Los Angeles.
Sir Alex Ferguson detested the cut of player personality. But Ferguson plays no role in decision-making at United.
The Glazer family and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward can contract all the car companies, sportswear brands, airlines and Chinese paint companies that they like, but nothing ‘speaks’ to fans like the self-brand superstar.
Particularly at United.
Indeed, it says everything about the unique entity that is Ibrahimovic that he took to Instagram to confirm of his long-expected move to United, before the club had put in place all the stock exchange and corporate formalities to make the official public announcement.
Not only Paris Saint-Germain but all of French football will miss Ibra. Not only his goals (38 in the league last season, 113 in his four years) and trophies (four league titles, two cups and three league cups) but also his image on a myriad forms of merchandise.
For United, the emphasis will be different. He will not find goals as easy to come by in the Premier League. His contracted one year sees him denied the elite stage of the Champions League and he has waved goodbye to the World Cup qualifying shop window (Though what might happen if Sweden reach neighbouring Russia and appeal to his sense of national loyalty?).
United need Ibrahimovic to deliver on the pitch, rather in the manner of Eric Cantona. Indeed, the comparison between the two has been raised by old United hero Peter Schmeichel.
Certainly Manchester will not be short of self-confident football egos. Pep Guardiola re-designing Manchester City after his own fashion; Jose Mourinho seizing the reins of the United role for which he always believed he was destined.
Ibrahimovic and Mourinho have already worked together profitably once before, at Internazionale, in winning Serie A in 2008-09 when the Swede was the Italian league’s 25-goal top scorer. Both also share an aversion to Pep Guardiola, new manager across town at Manchester City, from their own days in Spain – Ibra at Barcelona and Mourinho at Real Madrid.
Mourinho reacted to confirmation of their reunion by saying: “Zlatan needs no introduction. The statistics speak for themselves. He is one of the best strikers in the world and a player who always gives 100pc.
“He has won the most important league championships in the world, now he has the opportunity to play in the best league and I know he will grasp it and work hard to help the club win titles.
“I am certain his talent will delight fans at Old Trafford next season and his experience will be invaluable in helping to develop the younger players in the squad.”
The player returned the compliments, saying: “I cannot wait to work with Jose Mourinho again. He is a fantastic manager. I have enjoyed my career with some great memories. Now I am ready to create more special memories in England.”