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Irrepressible Ibrahimovic continues to show fellow pros that there is life after 30

Tuesday 21st February 2017
Zlatan Ibrahimovic continued his scintillating goalscoring form against Championship strugglers Blackburn Rovers on Sunday afternoon, as the 35-year-old's sumptuous second-half finish sealed Manchester United's passage to the quarter-finals of the Emirates FA Cup.

The evergreen Swede continues to build upon his legacy as one of the finest players of the modern-era, with his 24th goal of the season for the Red Devils propelling him ahead of both Cristiano Ronaldo (72) and Lionel Messi (73) in terms of goals scored since the beginning of the 2015/16 season (74).
Upon news of Ibrahimovic's impending switch to Old Trafford breaking over the summer, fans and pundits alike reacted with an eclectic mixture of excitement, expectation, scepticism and trepidation.

Despite Zlatan conquering Ligue 1 by registering an eye-watering 156 goals in 180 appearances for Paris-Saint Germain during his four seasons with the Parisians, the ageing forward's accomplishments were readily discredited by those who poured scorn upon his omnipotent displays due to the ostensibly substandard opposition he faced at domestic level in France.

Smug detractors chortled at suggestions that an ageing Ibrahimovic could replicate his impeccable goalscoring feats upon the grand stage of the Premier League; with the capricious forward tipped to experience a reality check once forced to contend with the breakneck pace and visceral physicality of English football.

Doubters were quickly made to feast upon a hearty slice of humble pie, as a typically unflustered Zlatan announced his arrival to the English game in trademark fashion; despatching a fine headed finish at Wembley to fire United to victory over Leicester City in the Community Shield - their first silverware of the highly-anticipated Jose Mourinho era - and the imperishable frontman has not looked back since that day.
A common school of thought that permeates throughout footballing circles across the globe is that a forward's powers begin to wane one they pass their 30th birthday -a landmark that professional footballers have been conditioned to dread due to the highly negative connotations that typically surround it.

One of the hottest talking points throughout the 2016/17 season has been the purported decline of the once great Wayne Rooney, with Manchester United's all-time leading goalscorer struggling to live up to his self-built reputation as one of the most explosive and devastating forwards to grace the modern era.

The once lion-hearted Englishman has been forced to adapt his game due to what appears to be a decline in both physical and mental functioning, with blistering forward bursts and breathtaking long-distance strikes being replaced by meandering one-paced dribbles and harmless sideways passes.  However, Rooney's time-induced fall from grace is juxtaposed against Ibrahimovic's ascendancy to the pinnacle of the English game.

Whilst the stricken England's captain has seemingly lost his battle against the sands of time, Zlatan has aged like a fine bottle of Bordeaux Red, increasing in value as he continues to embellish an already polished playing style with a cunning wit and professionalism that he has accumulated throughout an enduring career across a host of Europe's top divisions.

Whilst it is assumed that forwards should adopt a more reserved role out on the field once they reach a certain age, Ibrahimovic continues to push the boundaries for 30+ footballers; showing that the older generation should not be forced to compromise their playing style, whilst demonstrating that veterans can still perform at the peak of their powers in spite of their advancing years.

Zlatan is not alone in flying the flag the over 30s, however. You need only look to 33-year-old Arjen Robben's intrepid showing on the grand stage of the UEFA Champions League during Bayern Munich's 5-1 dismantling of Arsenal last week for further evidence that there is still life in the 'old dogs' of the European game; whilst 34-year-old Jermain Defoe continues to terrorise back-fours up and down the country with his trademark blend of pace and unerring accuracy in front of goal.
With groundbreaking advances in sports science, nutrition and recovery, the days of players being deemed as 'over the hill' once they reach 30 are soon to be a thing of the past, and Zlatan's sustained brilliance at the summit of the game suggests that the once ludicrous suggestion that it may soon become commonplace to see outfield players performing at an elite level well into their 40s in the not so distant future is not so far-fetched after all.
David O'Neill
North-East based journalism graduate, postgrad student & freelance sports writer with experience writing for a number of online publications. Long-suffering Newcastle United fan and Rafael Benitez enthusiast. Voracious watcher of all football, with a particular interest in the Premier League, Championship and Champions League.

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