Manchester United’s Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic controls the ball during the English Premier League football match between Crystal Palace and Manchester United at Selhurst Park in south London on December 14, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS /
Jose Mourinho believes Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s performance in Manchester United’s victory over Crystal Palace once again confirmed the striker did not move to the Premier League to wind down his career.
Ibrahimovic, 35, moved to Old Trafford as a free agent before the start of this season and his late winning goal took his United tally to 14.
The Swede also set up Paul Pogba’s opener –- controversially, with Ibrahimovic admitting he might have used his arm -– and Mourinho believes his all-round display showed he retains the hunger to succeed.
“It’s difficult to say someone is my ‘best’ ever signing, but I knew the character because, at this age, he’s a character, a personality, who has passion to play,” said Mourinho, the United manager.
“The quality is there. I knew that he could do what he’s doing here. I said England is not the best place to be on holidays.
“When a rich guy with a phenomenal career wants holidays, he doesn’t come to England.
“It’s the most difficult league in the world, so if you come here, you want to show what you can do. That’s what he did.
“It’s not just about goals. It’s about leadership and motivation. I’m so happy with what he has done.”
James McArthur cancelled out Pogba’s opening goal in the 66th minute, but Ibrahimovic secured United’s victory in a contentious game two minutes from time.
Palace manager Alan Pardew was convinced Pogba’s goal should not have stood and that United defender Marcos Rojo should have been sent off by referee Craig Pawson for a two-footed challenge on Wilfried Zaha.
“From the sidelines, it did look bad,” said Pardew. “He jumps two-footed, and we go to all these meetings where that’s a red card.”
– Bailly concern –
Pardew added “The first goal was a call the linesman should have seen. I thought it was offside even from where I was standing.
“He refereed the game aggressively. A lot of fouls, and it could have flowed a bit better.”
Mourinho defended Rojo, but refused to be drawn on the referee’s failure to spot an apparent handball by Palace midfielder Joe Ledley in his own box before ruling a Juan Mata effort out for offside.
He said: “Rojo is playing really well, phenomenal. He’s a clean player, aggressive. His nature is emotional, but very clean.”
United remain sixth, but after beating Tottenham Hotspur last weekend, Mourinho believes his side’s fortunes are beginning to change.
“If we’d had the points we lost at home, or not drawn matches we’d done more than enough to win, we’d be close to the top of the league,” said the former Chelsea manager.
“But we lost those points and, now, we are just closing the gap to the top four.
“Three matches to play until the end of the year. Let’s see how it ends on December 31 and we can feel then, and smell, what is possible to do in the second half of the season.”
Mourinho faces an anxious wait to learn the extent of an injury to Eric Bailly, who damaged his left knee on his first Premier League start since returning from an injury to his right knee.
“It’s not the same knee. It’s the left one, the other one, so he’s not coming back to a previous injury,” said Mourinho.
“He has a problem, but we don’t know the dimension. He showed amazing character to try and try and try.”