This coming Sunday we ‘welcome’ Manchester United to St James. One of the bigger games most of us have been looking forward too since going up last season. Whilst desperate for us to get a result against Wales’ favourite club – I had been hoping my eight year old footy loving son would finally getting a chance to see such a great player as Zlatan Ibrahimovic in action (sadly injured and not expected back until end of February). No goals mind!
Like me you’ll have seen some of the amazing instinctive goals he’s scored over the years, not least the one against England a few years back. If you get the chance to read his brilliant autobiography you’ll discover his secret to scoring such goals. Spoiler alert – years and years of practice of having balls drilled to him at speed in the box and only being allowed a single touch to score.
Zlatan’s book – unsurprisingly titled “Zlatan” is one of the better, no holds barred…I don’t care what you think, this is what I think, take it or leave it, an autobiography of the modern era. It reveals his tough upbringing and his struggles though youth football, and clearly this has led to his drive to win and his strong presence in the dressing room.
No surprise to note that he’s won the league in almost every country where he has played and reunited with Mourinho after winning Serie A with him at Inter a few years back (footnote to any Mackems reading this – they play in the San Siro which is an amazing place to watch your team play in Europe).
One of the most interesting parts of his book is where he reveals his lack of love for Pep Guardiola. You get the impression Zlatan hates the man with a passion. Even questioning his manhood.
The reason for this hate comes from their time at Barcelona together, where despite scoring tons of goals and winning titles, Pep wanted him out big style. There were a few reasons, such as lack of discipline, but the main one in my opinion was this. Zlatan Ibrahimovic refused to work hard for the team when they didn’t have the ball.
There was a good reason for this. Zlatan had met the great Marco Van Basten earlier in his career and asked his advice about whether it was better to spend energy helping out when your team didn’t have the ball, or save it for when a goal scoring chance presented itself. Van Basten was very clear he says – you let the other 10 defend – your job is to score goals. If it was good enough for Van Basten who he rated the best ever, then it was good enough for him.
Clearly this isn’t how Pep wants his players to play, so that was that.
And this brings me to the Toon, Rafa Benitez and Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Clearly Benitez doesn’t want Mitro to wear a toon shirt ever again. This has widely been viewed as a lack of trust in Mitro. That despite his talent and strong physical presence he’ll blow up and get sent off costing us games and points.
However, I wonder if it’s more than that. Why else would you stick with an ex-Stoke reserve up front? Jonjo is surely as likely to get into bother as Mitro and yet he gets plenty of game time, so I wonder if it’s down to two other things as well.
I suspect it’s down to Mitro not following orders and instructions and this potentially undermines the manager. Such disobedience can quickly spread through a team if not well managed and you can end up in a situation where all respect for the manager evaporates, like it did for McClaren, where he famously couldn’t even order his players off a bus to take a walk.
The second is Mitro’s lack of effort for the team when we don’t have the ball. Joselu and others will press and work hard to get it back. However, we know once we get it – a lack of quality up front means we can’t score often enough so we end up drawing games at best.
Whatever happens at St James Park now, I do think Mitro will continue to mature and grow into an exceptional striker. I wish him well at Fulham.
Like me you’ll probably keep an eye on them and their results. However, I fear he will be sold in the summer. Then, for whatever reason, he’ll go on to be another of the legions of players we have had here at the Toon that we failed to get the best out of. Those we move on, only for them to be successful elsewhere.
Let’s just hope if that happens he doesn’t go on to be another Zlatan or Van Basten.