There is no footballing figure who expresses his self-confidence quite like Zlatan Ibrahimovic. It was what attracted Manchester United to him in the first place, the overt belief that he can be whatever he wants to be.
And while his first Premier League adventure has not gone entirely to plan thus far, with United sitting in sixth place in the table a full nine points adrift of leaders Chelsea and Zlatan having recently endured a six-game goalless streak, the club are looking forward to seeing 18 more months of Ibrahimovic in the famous red shirt.
“Zlatan’s situation is simple, he has a one year plus another year [contract] in the club, we are happy with him, we are going to execute the option of a second season,” manager Jose Mourinho confirmed at a press conference on Wednesday ahead of the Europa League clash with Feyenoord at Old Trafford.
“So in two years he can do what he wants because he is free, but I think in the next one-and-a-half years he is going to do not just what we want but what he wants because he is happy, he is committed, he is loving his life as a football player at Man Utd.”
And while the player himself insisted: “For the moment we haven’t had any discussions” in relation to the second year of his deal, he confirmed that he feels as bright as ever at United despite claims he has failed to shine so far in the north-west.
“I shine 24 hours! It depends how you want me to shine, I have been in the game 20 years and I’m getting older, yes, but the older I get the better I get, I feel. I am shiny in one way or another, but if you want me to shine even more I will try to do it for you.”
His recent spell without a goal ended with a double in the 3-1 win at Swansea before suspension ruled him out of the weekend clash with Arsenal, and reminded many of the ability he has. But the 35-year-old admitted on Wednesday that he has had to rethink his game a little to suit the demands of Premier League football.
“I feel like the [Premier League] teams don’t control the games, it’s like back and front, back and front and the teams fight until the last minute,” he added. “The Premier League is very exciting, the game is very tough and very physical, but when I try to play aggressively I get a yellow card. That’s ok, I have to go back to how I played in other leagues and be more alert for my duels.
“But the game is back and front and I don’t think any team controls the game in the way other top teams [in other leagues] control most of the game and they win with their control. Here anything can happen… you can be winning a game 2-0 and then at the end crazy things can happen and it goes 2-2 or you can lose 3-2.”
He also revealed that he could have signed for United under Louis van Gaal in 2015 but felt happy to continue with Paris Saint-Germain until Mourinho came back calling. Having netted 50 goals in 51 matches in France last season some were expecting more from such a bolshie character in front of goal than the eight goals he has delivered in 17 appearances to date, yet he insists: “It’s part of my job to score goals, and I like to score goals, but playing good is more important. As long as I am creating the chances, as long as I am there for the situation that comes up for the goal, then I am not worried.”
The moral of the story seems to be that it will take more than an underwhelming few months to knock Ibrahimovic out of his stride. He still has the cheeky smile, the cocky strut and the self-confidence. He is still the man who has record more than 450 goals in his top-flight career which has seen him stop off at the likes of Juventus, Inter, Barcelona, Milan and PSG. And that is why United want more of the same from him next season.
It may be taking a little time for United to become accustomed to playing under Mourinho’s orders and to Ibrahimovic’s strengths. But it has taken no time at all for the striker to feel at home in Manchester, and he is even doing his best to brighten up the city’s long, dark winter evenings.
“Once I stepped in the city, the whole city was shining. Before that I don’t know how much it was shining but I feel it shining now 24 hours, even if it gets dark at about 4pm. I’m here, I’m enjoying it, I’m training every day – training hard.
“The city is what it is, I feel comfortable, I feel good. It depends what you want to do, the way you live and I feel good, I’m happy.”
While the club are less than satisfied with results so far this term, they are happy enough with Ibrahimovic that they are ready to make him one of Manchester’s most recognisable landmarks for another 12 months. And nobody could have more faith in Zlatan to do the business for the next year-and-a-half than Zlatan himself.