Phil Neville has heaped praise on Zlatan Ibrahimovic following the Swede’s match-winning performance during Manchester United’s 3-2 League Cup final win over Southampton, pointing towards his Eric Cantona-esque style of on-pitch leadership.
The 35-year-old, in what was his biggest challenge in a Man United shirt since arriving in July, grabbed a sensational brace – including a dramatic late winner – to hand Mourinho his first trophy at Old Trafford.
Zlatan noted after the game that, while he was undoubtedly pleased with his contributions against Claude Puel’s side, he was hungry for more success at Man United.
And Neville, speaking after the game, was quick to highlight the similarities between Cantona and Zlatan.
“When Cantona walked onto the pitch with his collar up he looked like he loved Old Trafford, he had the aura and confidence. Ibrahimovic is the same.
“Sometimes you hate people who have that much arrogance but I love that because he delivers at the same time.
“When you’re a manager and join a new club you need one player who sings off your hymn sheet. Ibrahimovic is that player for Mourinho.”
There was an element of symbolism in seeing Wayne Rooney standing on the sidelines as Zlatan, United’s new hero, stepped up to produce history for United against Southampton. Indeed, the days of Rooney patrolling the pitch as the side’s primary talisman, surging around with a tangible sense of hunger, are now long gone.
Such a role has been replaced by something – whilst technically older – unavoidably new. United have made too many ambiguous, lukewarm additions in recent times, and Mourinho, through his use of Zlatan as the side’s primary force of arrogance and power, is setting a benchmark for the entire squad.