Did you arise on Friday morning and believe that the Champions League group stage draw was the biggest overnight story in football? Or perhaps that an actual match – Everton drawing with Hadjuk Split – was worthy of the most coverage?
You were mistaken. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the big story here. The Daily Mirror go with: ‘IBRACADABRA: MY MAGIC WILL FIRE RED DEVILS TO THE TITLE’.
He’s back. And so are the laboured headlines. Rejoice.
Speaking of Ibrahimovic, Martin Samuel has penned a column in the Daily Mail largely dedicated to declaring the striker as ‘the man’.
One line in particular stood out to Mediawatch however. ‘A manager engaging in all competitions – and Mourinho always does – needs a big squad,’ Samuel writes of a man who suggested as early as March last season that he would be resting players in the Premier League, thereby prioritising progress in the Europa League.
“The Europa League is very difficult but it’s a target for us and if we beat Rostov and we find ourselves in the quarter-final, then we have to think really seriously about the Europa League because in this moment we are still in the last 16,” Mourinho said on March 7.
“In a certain period of the season I have to analyse my team, the players, the condition of everyone and I have to make choices. I have to make choices but choices that I would always share with my owners, with my board.”
At the time of those comments, United had a full 12 games of the league season remaining, and were three points behind fourth-placed Liverpool with a game in hand. But Mourinho absolutely is a manager who ‘always engages in all competitions’. Definitely. Except when he doesn’t.
No way, Jose
The rest of Samuel’s column questions whether the striker will ‘upset Jose’s magic formula’.
‘On the face of it, the dynamic is very simple. If all goes to plan, Martial deputises for Rashford, Ibrahimovic for Lukaku. Arguably, it is the finest forward line in the Premier League and one of the strongest in Europe. With one fault. When has Ibrahimovic ever been the second thought at his club? Just once.’
Samuel goes on to document Ibrahimovic’s high-profile falling out with Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, at a time when the striker was approaching his peak years at 28, and not recovering from a career-threatening injury at 35. Samuel correctly identifies that Ibrahimovic was ‘second thought’ to Lionel Messi in Spain, and subsequently kicked up a fuss.
He even quotes Ibrahimovic himself, who wrote in his autobiography: ‘It began well, but then Messi started to talk. He wanted to play in the middle, not on the wing, so I was sacrificed and no longer had the freedom on the pitch I need to succeed.’
Mediawatch somehow cannot envisage Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Paul Pogba or Romelu Lukaku complaining that Ibrahimovic – by all accounts a much-loved and respected member of the dressing room, and who is only likely to return by January – is starving them of playing opportunities.
Samuel worries that ‘Ibrahimovic’s reintroduction will need all of Mourinho’s man management and coaching skills’. It should be a breeze for ‘a manager engaging in all competitions’.
‘Ibrahimovic posted on his social media accounts a photo-shopped image of him, dressed in angelic robes, arm-wrestling Satan’ – MailOnline.
‘On Thursday, after his return to United had been announced, he tweeted: “I UNITED it,” above an image of him arm-wrestling Satan’ – The Guardian.
‘Ibrahimovic was quick to take to social media, tweeting: “I UNITED it @ManUtd” above a photo-shopped image of him arm-wrestling Satan’ – ITV.com
Was it not supposed to be, y’know, a red devil?
Give you hell
Neil Ashton uses his column for The Sun to declare the Champions League draw a ‘SPURFECT STORM’ in one area of north London.
‘If Tottenham can get over their Wembley hoodoo in time, it is shaping up to be the glamour game of the group stage,’ he writes.
A reminder that the same man wrote that Wembley was ‘hell on earth right now’ for Tottenham on Monday. Now it is but a simple ‘hoodoo’ to ‘get over’.
Smack Bilic up
With West Ham rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table after two games, one would think Slaven Bilic has better things to do than critique Newcastle’s summer transfer window. Alas…
“In this transfer window, I have followed who Newcastle have bought and sold,” he said on Thursday. “They are not happy with the transfers, but they spent more money than we have in this transfer window, if we are talking about net money.”
Of course, the first rule of the summer transfer window is that your point is automatically moot when you do talk about net spend, but still.
There is a reason Bilic discusses ‘net money’ instead of simple outgoings on transfers: West Ham have spent £38.7m; Newcastle have spent £31.9m.
By Slaven’s next sentence, he realises the probable cause for panic over Newcastle’s lack of investment. “OK, they maybe needed to improve more because they were coming up from the Championship,” he said. Two defeats from two games – one against a fellow promoted side who spent much more to improve their squad – suggests that is more than a “maybe”.
“But it is a big club and they were all buzzing. They won the Championship and it was: ‘Now we are going to rule the world or whatever’.”
Said Rafael Benitez on May 7, minutes after watching Newcastle win the Championship:
“What effect will winning the title have on next season? It’s obviously important to go up but that’s it. I don’t see a big difference if you are winners or not this year.”
It was hardly a rendition of the 2006 Take That classic, Slaven.
Paul Merson expects Swansea to lose to Crystal Palace on Saturday.
“Swansea try and play out from the back too much with players that aren’t capable of doing so,” he tells Sky Sports.
That will be the same Paul Merson who also said this of Crystal Palace on August 19:
“The manager is asking them to play out from the back and when you do that with a lack of a confidence you’re asking for trouble.”
But Mediawatch must genuinely doff its cap to Merson for the following:
“I’ve got to hold my hands up. I had Watford to go down at the start of the season but I watched them at Bournemouth and they were outstanding. Marco Silva is getting a right tune out of his side and I cannot see them going down – I made a big mistake there!”
Look my hands jumpin’, look my heart’s thumpin’…
Writes Neil McLeman in the Daily Mirror:
‘New Chelsea midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko has revealed Antonio Conte shouts at him in training every day to make him a better player.’
Well there’s a stunning revelation. Passionate manager who shouts so much during matches that he suffers from sore throats also yells at players in training.
Daily Mirror, August 21: ‘Arsenal ‘to offer Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain £125,000-a-week’ to keep star from Chelsea’s clutches’
Daily Mirror, August 25: ‘Gunners boss Arsene Wenger has made a final offer to the 24-year-old England winger worth £180,000 a week’
Talk about a successful four days for Oxlade-Chamberlain’s agent.
Good to see that Andre Marriner is getting sub-editor shifts for the Daily Mirror:
Demarai Gray's had a difficult summer… pic.twitter.com/utgkpAAAWr
— Football365 (@F365) August 25, 2017
Recommended reading of the day
Adam Smith on attack v defence.
Jonathan Wilson on Arsenal’s need for a midfielder.
Andy Mitten on Zlatan Ibrahimovic.