It already feels like forever ago that Manchester United embarrassed Chelsea on opening day. The Reds put four goals on Lampard’s boys and it was hard not to get lost in those familiar feelings of Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s opening run as interim manager.
Of course, a month in the Premier League is an eternity, and, with less than 100 days until the January transfer window, United is in desperate need of depth and scoring. Therefore, the club is already being linked with potential Scandinavian strikers with ties to the club or Solskjær.
In the waning days of August, Zlatan Ibrahimović embodied the “Nobody:” Twitter meme and reminded everyone that his current deal with the LA Galaxy expires on December 31. For those not familiar with the Gregorian Calendar, that contract expiration would occur just one day before the start of the new window. The self-prescribed God of Manchester casually dropped the line, “If United needs me, I’m here,” and I had to be resuscitated. Of course, this casual utterance was seismic enough that it required a response from Solskjær who joked, “He knows my number.”
Considering the youth movement that is taking place on the red side of Manchester, it’s easy to write off the prospect of the 38-year-old striker making the move back to United, but, after scoring 28 goals in 27 games for the Galaxy, the move is still intriguing. Ibrahimović may not have the pace of United’s current forwards, but the big Swede brings other attributes lacking in the United squad.
In his short time at United, Ibra was looked to as a leader in the dressing room for José Mourinho’s squad; so much so, that his departure appeared to create a power vacuum in the locker room. A return for the man once declared as the new Eric Cantona by Phil Neville could provide the lieutenant in the dressing room that Solskjær has desperately needed.
Captainship as a means of appeasement has been one of the great follies perpetuated by the club in the last couple of years, as the armband has been offered like a signing bonus to the likes of Paul Pogba or David De Gea, and ultimately bestowed upon Ashley Young. While I don’t discount their contributions on and off the field, frankly, a guy like Ibra will step up and the rest will fall in line because no one — except for maybe Juan Mata or Nemanja Matić — on the current roster can say they’ve reached the same career heights as Ibra, and definitely no one matches his goal-scoring numbers.
Speaking of scoring, say what you will about Major League Soccer, Ibrahimović has taken the league by storm and has exhibited the same tenacity and eye for goal that he had when he was fit for United. Even if he doesn’t start most games or plays a full 90 minutes, United desperately need a “break glass in case of emergency” guy when they absolutely need a goal. In the final 15-20 minutes of a match while either trailing or headed towards a disappointing draw, there’s not many players more capable than Ibra of finding the back of the net and changing the result.
Erling Braut Håland
The new name to grace our phone’s push notifications is Erling Braut Håland. Sitting on the polar opposite of the age spectrum with Ibra, Håland is a 19-year-old striker that just announced himself to Europe with a hattrick in RB Salzburg’s Champions League opener against K.R.C. Genk. If Håland’s name sounds familiar, perhaps you remember reading about his exploits in the U-20 World Cup when he scored nine (NINE?!) goals against Honduras. Of course, most of you will probably recognize his name because his papa, Alf-Inge Håland, had his own Premier League career basically ended by everyone’s favorite Irishman, Roy Keane.
Despite the familial bad blood with those associated with Manchester United, the younger Håland has a strong connection to the Red Devils because Solskjær managed Håland when the pair were at Molde FK in their native Norway.
Håland recently (and by recently, I mean after I submitted this article originally to my editor) praised his former manager for helping his growth as a player at Molde.
He told TV2, “[Solskjær] has taught me a lot. Solskjær is a fantastic person and a very good coach. He is one of the reasons I am here today.”
Håland also iterated the same thing that everyone iterates when they’re asked about a move to Old Trafford, and he said he has dreamt for playing for a big club and that he’s always been keen on English football.
At 6 feet 3 inches tall (roughly 1.91 meters for literally everyone else in the world using the metric system), Håland presents a completely different option in a possible lineup for Soslkjær as he is without a big-bodied striker since the departure of Romelu Lukaku. Solskjær once likened Håland to the Belgian during his time at Molde, but I would argue from watching the Norwegian that he is lighter on his feet and can affect play in ways other than just being a bulldozer.
Those skeptical of Håland will surely point to the level of competition or lack thereof that he’s experienced; a fair criticism when considering a move to the Premier League. However, his production hasn’t plateaued or petered out during his current rise in competitions, and, moreover, the consistency at which he scores multiple goals in a match suggests he isn’t afraid to shoot the proverbial J, which is a mentality that hasn’t been seen in the United attack since the departure of Ibrahimović.
This season alone, Håland has 17 goals in 10 games including 11 in eight league games. The kid is proving in his first full season for Salzburg that he gets buckets and he is well on pace to win the Golden Boot award in the league.
Adding to the appeal of Håland is the fact that he’s been cutting his teeth at Salzburg, a club that has developed talent making an impact in higher leagues. The most high profile former Salzburger is Sadio Mané — perhaps you’ve heard of him. Mané’s teammate at Liverpool, Naby Keïta, also came from Salzburg. And for you German Bundesliga fans, you’ll remember that RB Leipzig’s Marcel Sabitzer is also a former player for Salzburg.
Complicating matters for either move to Old Trafford for Håland and Ibrahimović is the club’s strained relationship with Mino Raiola. Ibrahimović is a client of Raiola’s while Håland is reportedly taking advisement from the agent. It’s been a — for lack of a better word — difficult summer for United and their dealings with Raiola since the possible move for Paul Pogba to Real Madrid took over the summer transfer rumor mill. Pogba, of course, is a client of Raiola’s and plenty of ‘where there’s smoke there’s fire’ moments in the most recent transfer window may cause the club to be wary of making further moves. Granted, the relationship could be on the mend with new reports that United are working on a new contract for the mercurial midfielder which could yield many positive consequences.
Looking at bringing in one or both into the fold could be really important business for a United team that is reeling from a lack of depth. The sale of Lukaku has deprived United of a center forward at a time when Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and, now, Marcus Rashford have all missed time for injury despite the season being less than two months old.
Ibra seems like a no-brainer from a ton of angles since United needs goals and it needs its strikers to take direction from someone other than themselves. Furthermore, the prospect of bringing Ibra in on a free for a second time just screams good business. Surely he can bag double digit goals in half of a season while showing Mason Greenwood the ropes and further helping Martial and Rashford. And if Dead Woodward needs any more reasoning, Ibra sells shirts. I, for one, will gladly get a second Ibra United kit because I’m part of the problem and at least I have the self awareness to admit this and work to be a better person.
Håland on the other hand could become the next great Norwegian striker for United. He has shown that he steps up to each new level of competition and he has the pedigree to make it in the league. He falls in line with the continued youth movement at United and he can provide some added competition to the likes of Rashford who appears to be flailing in his development without able competition at his position. The Norwegian is more likely to be a summer move considering Salzburg’s possible European aspirations this season, and he will surely fetch huge fees that will force Woodward to take longer than a month to mull over.
Bringing in the combination of both players could create a perfect storm of talent nurturing. In the same article that Håland was quoted in his praise for Solskjær, he also had quotes concerning Ibrahimović.
“There is something about the way he became good and the way he plays,” Håland said. “For me, Zlatan is the best.
“He is from Scandinavia, so someone has to take over for him.”
The marriage between the ultimate Scandinavian super sub, striker, and upcoming talent could be too perfect for united to pass up.
Ultimately, both players seem less than likely of joining United for various reasons previously mentioned, but for the time being, it should be treated as operational negligence if someone in the club’s leadership doesn’t at least get on the phone in the upcoming months. Unfortunately, should we expect anything other than operational negligence at this point?