WEMBLEY: Zlatan Ibrahimovic marked his long-awaited arrival in English football by scoring the winning goal which extended Manchester United’s record to 21 victories in the FA Community Shield – a winning start also, of course, for Jose Mourinho on his own first challenge as their manager.
Yet United, 2-1 winners over champions Leicester City, had been almost as busy off the field with officials and medical staff in Manchester welcoming back Paul Pogba and sorting out his medical ahead of an imminent return from Juventus in the world’s first £100m transfer deal.
Pogba will be new manager Mourinho’s fourth signing at United, after Eric Bailly, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The 23-year-old joined United at 16 from French club Le Havre in 2009 but made only a handful of appearances before his contract expired in July 2012 after agent Mino Raiolo fell out with Sir Alex Ferguson,
Pogba made 178 appearances for Juventus, winning four league titles, scoring 34 goals, and helped the club reach the 2015 Champions League final. The Serie A side had offered him a new contract in vain. Pogba’s return to Old Trafford could be confirmed today [MONDAY] for a fee which surpasses Gareth Bale’s £85m move to Real Madrid in 2013.
This will be the first time in 20 years that an English club has paid a world-record fee. Newcastle United were the last to do so when they spent £15m signing striker Alan Shearer from Blackburn Rovers.
Agent Raiola also represents ex-Dortmund midfielder Mkhitaryan who was a Wembley substitute, and Ibrahimovic who started the Community Shield after signing for United on a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain for his first experience of English football.
United were thus ‘weakened’ by the absence of Pogba from their line-up while Claudio Ranieri filled the midfield gap left by the sale of N’Golo Kante to Chelsea with Wales veteran Andy King.
Leicester went close once when Shinji Okazaki hit a post but it was United who took the lead through Jesse Lingard, scorer of the last goal of the Louis Van Gaal reign. He achieved the first competitive breakthrough for United under Mourinho by skipping past two defenders and then beating Kasper Schmeichel. This was United’s first real chance.
The last Manchester United player to score in an FA Cup final and the subsequent Community/Charity Shield had been Eric Cantona in 1996.
United almost had another chance after the goal with Robert Huth denying Wayne Rooney, underlying Leicester concerns that they would badly miss the covering work of Kante.
Manager Claudio Ranieri made two half-time changes bringing on new signing Ahmed Musa and Demarai Gray, both attacking players. The Foxes had their reward seven minutes later with Jamie Vardy displaying the attacking sharpness which brought him his title-winning goals last term.
As time ran and substitutes came and went so United regained control with Ibrahinovic playing a central role. He had one weak shot cleared off the goal-line by Danny Drinkwater but then made no mistake with eight minutes remaining, heading home a right-wing cross from Antonio Valencia.
Leicester City: Schmeichel – Simpson (62. Hernandez), Huth (88. Ulloa), Morgan, Fuchs (79. Schlupp) – Mahrez, Drinkwater, King (62. Mendy), Albrighton (46. Gray) – Okazaki (46. Musa), Vardy.
Man United: De Gea – Valencia, Bailly, Blind, Shaw (68. Rojo) – Carrick (60. Herrera), Fellaini – Lingard (62. Mata; 90. Mkhitaryan), Rooney (87. Schneiderlin), Martial (69. Rashford) – Ibrahimovic.