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Zlatan Ibrahimovic - the free signing of the century

Monday 27th February 2017
It is not often that a player, let alone a striker can just walk into the Premier League and hit the ground running immediately. Notably, in the 2012/13 season, Valencia's Roberto Soldado netted 24 goals in 33 appearances for the Spanish side, earning him a move to Tottenham Hotspur. The following season was nowhere near as prolific though, with the forward scoring just six league goals in 28 appearances.

This trend of difficulty extends beyond strikers too, with another Spaniard, this time David de Gea, struggling hugely with the physical demands of the Premier League as many questioned his ability between the sticks for a team the size of Manchester United. While the latter has answered his critics superbly, the former did not, eventually leaving Tottenham, Soldado currently plays for Villarreal in La Liga.
This summer, it was another Manchester United new boy that had everyone talking. Zlatan Ibrahimovic's English adventure has been one that many prayed would happen but, with the forward well into his 30's, many were resigned to the fact he either would not come at all, or his powers would have diminished so much so, that he would not have the same impact as he would have had even a few years before.

However, the EFL Cup final proved, for the 25th and 26th time this season, that Ibrahimovic has not strayed beyond his use by date, quite the opposite in fact. His free-kick was able to set Manchester United up superbly well, while his general game was outstanding as his hold-up play, passing and neat touches kept Southampton at arms reach.

The Saints did mount a stirring comeback though as a Manolo Gabbiadini double threatened to see the underdogs to an unexpected victory. However, Jose Mourinho's side remained patient and they were able to see out all of Southampton's pressure before striking with three minutes to go.

Ander Herrera's perfect lofted chip was met by the unmarked Ibrahimovic who powered the ball home with a header to send the players, staff and fans into raptures. While Southampton tried their best to find a third, the day belonged to United and their talismanic forward.

His 26th goal proved to be the most important of his Manchester United career as he assured Mourinho of his first piece of major silverware at the club. It is an incredible stat then, that he has netted 26 goals, two of which came in the Cup Final, when many doubted his ability.

His goals, performances and general aura have people wondering whether he is the best free signing of all time. His total transfer fee over his career exceeds £140 million, with the swede plying his trade for some of the world's biggest sides including Barcelona, Inter and AC Milan and PSG.

With PSG last season, the Swede found the net 53 times in all competitions, a phenomenal total. It seems incredible then, that he was able to come to Manchester United for free. Interestingly, Luis Suarez, who was bought by Barcelona for £75 million in 2014, netted 65 goals last season. While he did find the net 12 more times than the Swede, it is interesting to wonder what the striker would have cost Manchester United should they have had to buy him out of a contract with PSG.

Ibrahimovic can now turn his attention to helping to fire his side to glory in three different competitions. They are still in the FA Cup, where they must now face league leaders Chelsea, and they will continue their European venture against Rostov in the Europa League. While they are too far off the top to realistically challenge Chelsea, they can still battle for a Champions League spot for next season, with the Swede's contributions vital due to the competitive nature of the top of the table.

Ibrahimovic will go down in history as one of the most flamboyant, outrageous and talented players of all time. His ability to score from nothing, his pedigree of winning and his entertaining ego make him one of the most sought after talents, even at the age of 35. He has won trophies in France, Italy and Spain, and he can now add England to that list.

Many thought Ibrahimovic would struggle to hit the heights of the season before but, after his 26th goal of the season, it actually feels like the mercurial Swede is only just getting started.
Ben Darvill

I graduated with an upper second class degree in English and Creative writing from Cardiff Metropolitan University. I have been a freelance sports writer since leaving University and have written for a number of online websites. I am a Chelsea and England fan but I enjoy watching any team play as I have an intense passion for football.


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