Manchester United’s season could yield two trophies and a return to the Champions League. It would rank as a success for many, a stepping stone for another. “I never leave a job unfinished,” said their top scorer this week. It was the clearest indication Zlatan Ibrahimovic will stay. It was also a sign that sitting fifth does not lie well with a man whose previous 15 seasons produced 13 league titles (two at Juventus revoked because of the Calciopoli scandal, but counted by Ibrahimovic nonetheless).
Jose Mourinho may call it a job begun. Ibrahimovic branded it a job unfinished. He won the EFL Cup almost on his own. It scarcely seems enough to satisfy his hunger or, arguably, his ego. If other clubs need success to keep their marquee players, perhaps United secured Ibrahimovic for a second season with their early inability to mount a title challenge.
Los Angeles Galaxy seemed to court him; Napoli too. Mourinho may not need to be at his most persuasive to keep a player who will be coveted when his contract expires this summer. But if he does, he has a status symbol to confer. The carrot of the captaincy is considerable.
Ibrahimovic’s past provides proof. He was planning to end his Sweden career in 2010. Instead, Erik Hamren elevated him from the ranks. It had an impact. Forty of his 62 international goals came with the armband. He became more potent, more purposeful. “I even liked the fact I was the one taking the crap in the media if we lost,” he wrote in I Am Zlatan. “It got me buzzing.”
Ibrahimovic has seemed to shoulder a huge burden this season, the man in his 36th year who has figured in 41 of United’s 48 games and scored 26 goals. If one response would be to find others to share his load, another might be to increase his responsibilities.
Because a vacancy is opening up at Old Trafford and Ibrahimovic, the on-pitch leader in all but name, is the logical candidate to fill it. Certainly Wayne Rooney’s current position feels untenable. If he does not leave in the summer, a substitute would become more of the sort of distraction that could irritate Mourinho. Michael Carrick, his loyal deputy, could be a quietly diligent club captain but the delay in securing the veteran to a new contract highlights the reservations the Portuguese has about him. Carrick has only started 12 of 27 league games this season and, even if he stays, his outings may be rarer if Mourinho adds a midfielder in the summer.
Read the full article on eurosport.co.uk: Captain Zlatan? Why it makes total sense for United