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Manchester United 2016-17 Player Report Cards: Zlatan Ibrahimović

United’s short-term talisman.

Manchester United v Southampton - EFL Cup Final Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

Zlatan Ibrahimović is here for a good time, not a long time. The big Swede may yet move on from Manchester United after just one year, but that one year was a hell of a success. A team-leading 28 goals - and 9 assists as well - would’ve been even higher had his season not been cruelly cut short a month early by the first major injury of his career.

Even past his prime, Zlatan is still capable of the outrageous; even now, no one in world football is as good at holding the ball up, and few have technique that can rival the Swede’s. In a United team that was still finding its feet, Ibrahimović was a source of rare dependability. For months, United’s team was full of holes and shortcomings, but Ibrahimović was there to paper over the cracks.

One of the best moments of the season was his winning goal with just minutes to go in the League Cup final at Wembley. What made it great wasn’t just the fact that it was a late winner in a cup final, but the fact that a roar went up from the crowd even before the ball had touched his head. In front of goal, he was the closest we had to Robin van Persie since the Dutchman himself dragged United to a league title. Ibrahimović felt like a sure thing.

None of this is to say that Ibrahimović was consistently excellent, because he was not. There were weeks at a time when he looked every bit of his 35 or 36 years, even if some of that was due to the manager’s refusal to rotate him early in the season. He missed his fair share of chances as well, his finishing weirdly deserting him at times. And even his extraordinary technical ability could not fully mask his lack of mobility. There were times when the team was crying out for a pacier, more dynamic, Rashford-shaped presence up front.

Ibrahimović brought more than goals to United this season. He was Mourinho’s true captain on the pitch, even if he never once wore the armband. He brought leadership and force of personality to a United dressing room that had been lacking both. His dedication in training, his winning mentality, his presence: not only was this a lift for the young players at the club, but for the fans as well. If even just for a year, Ibrahimović helped bring the swagger back to Manchester United.

José Mourinho approval rating: A series of drunken, late night voice mails about signing a new contract.