Juan Mata pays tribute to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s “special personality” following move to LA Galaxy

by Leo Nieboer

Juan Mata has paid homage to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s “special personality” following his departure from Manchester United last week.

The Swede completed a move to LA Galaxy worth £3m a year having failed to return to peak condition during his second season at Old Trafford, making just two starts in total.

He scored 29 goals in 53 games, playing a fundamental role in Man United’s success in the League Cup and Europa League last season.

And Mata, writing in his weekly blog, noted that it was a privilege to share a dressing room with such a remarkable character.

“Last week we bade farewell to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who will continue his career in the LA Galaxy,” he said.

“It’s been a privilege to share the dressing room with one of the best strikers of the last 15 years, a footballer with a special personality on and off the pitch, who has played in different leagues and always in big clubs.

“Good luck in the MLS, Zlatan, I’m sure that you will keep scoring goals and enjoying football for a long time. Lycka till!”

Zlatan was not a striker who slotted perfectly into Mourinho’s system – at least less so than Romelu Lukaku – but a striker United, at that moment in their history, desperately needed.

Mourinho recognised upon arriving at Carrington that his new group of players were, above all, psychologically beleaguered following a mind-numbing campaign under Louis van Gaal. They had gone into their shells as a kind of default mode and needed a character of Zlatan’s magnitude at the masthead of attack to haul them out from their dark place, to help them believe in themselves again.

That strike from outside the box against AFC Bournemouth on the opening game of the season was an example of exactly that: audacity, execution, belief in oneself. It galvanised a group of players whose attacking endeavours had been painfully limited over the past year.

That free-kick at Wembley served as a stark contrast to the neurotic inertia of the past three years. It was powerful, breathtaking, utterly unexpected.

His character, above anything, laid down a marker for how United players should conduct themselves on the pitch.

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