|The EFL Cup looking privileged to be in the hands of Zlatan Ibrahimovic|
League title or not, the signing and impact of Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Manchester United is steadily making a case to eclipse the impact made by the signing of Robin van Persie. Back in 2013, the Dutchman's arrival at Old Trafford was the single most important factor in the club regaining the league title from the vermin across the street.
However, where RVP was lauded for his exquisite finishing abilities and consistency, Zlatan is earning comparison with sacred names who have graced Manchester shores in memorable times before. Eric Cantona is one such name and few would claim to have captured fans' hearts as much as he did.
It was not so much about Eric's individual talent--and he had quite a stellar one---as it was about the lift his presence at Manchester United did for the rest of his teammates. Arrogance and ego have many a time been the downfall for many a professional but Cantona, like Best before him, used it to positively raise the standards of his teammates.
Ibrahimovic's ego and arrogance have been well documented in a remarkable career but he has had to come a long way to convincing everyone, not least people in the country of his current employment, about his superior ability. The irony in all this is that he is doing it at an age when it is generally presumed that a footballer's powers have waned.
If the really top tier players are the ones that decide the really big games, then how does last night's EFL Cup final fare when judged upon that standard. Manchester United could yet have bigger games in the season to come---it's only February but as it stands, the towering Swede has stood tall on just about every big occasion for United this season.
In the season's curtain raiser, United needed their big target man to win them the Community Shield against the reigning league Champions. Zlatan has also made his mark in games that the club categorise as 'big games' ---Manchester City and Liverpool. Each time hauling United above a level they threatened to settle for.
However, all those occasions pale in comparison to the giant Swede's performance in the EFL Cup final. Here was a Manchester United team pressed hard and locked in by an organised and determined Southampton side that had used the same application to dump Arsenal and Liverpool from this competition. The problem with being under the cosh and decidedly inferior for so long in a final is that lesser players settle. They accept the dominance of the opposition and often times fail or at least forget to shake their heads clear and rise above it.
Luckily for United, Zlatan doesn't settle. And thank goodness we finally have someone in the squad who will pass that on to the younger players. It's a priceless commodity. Where Cantona inspired a club whose last title win had faded from memory, Ibrahimovic has lifted a club that has struggled to find its way in the wake of the retirement of its greatest ever manager.
At 26 goals before the end of February, the 35 year old would have to go on a massive goal drought between now and May for the 30 goal mark to evade him. Chances are he'll surpass it by a few goals!
United were poor on the day and if football matches were decided on equity, the Saints would have carried the day. The only reason they didn't is that Manchester United have one of the few players in world football that can change the seemingly 'natural' course of events on a football pitch. His manager acknowledged as much.
There's plenty of talk about how Manchester United intend to add much needed firepower to their attack in the summer but it will take a another record breaking transfer window and perhaps a little luck to get an improvement on the self-proclaimed 'god' of Manchester. Afterall, man knows no power above gods.