Transfer windows for Manchester United in the post-Ferguson years have become something of a slapstick comedy, involving talking up, veering towards a grand crescendo, followed by familiar tripping and falling into bucketfuls of humble pie. Thiago Alcantara, Cesc Fabregas, Pedro, Mats Hummels, Sergio Ramos and Renato Sanches are just some of the names that have been involved in these protracted sagas, with a common climax – that of rivals and other European powerhouses snatching them away in the nick of time, prompting instant howls of laughter and meme-fests from today's 24 x 7 social media machinery.
Often, fans have been forced to clutch at straws, interpreting mostly non-existent hints from WAGS' Instagram accounts and Twitter handles, as the club, under Vice-Chairman Ed Woodward, have only been too happy to adhere to the "there is no such thing as bad publicity" maxim, waiting for eons before "unveiling" players.
There has also been the now-familiar Jorge Mendes narrative - that the club are but a puppet to the super-agent’s whims - and his clients have been touted as prospective signings all too often.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic's signing represents a departure – no waiting for the club to announce or "unveil", no cameras around Carrington looking for hints, no trawling social media accounts of players' close circles. It was simple. Zlatan is here, and Zlatan announced it on Zlatan's social-sphere.
A free agent superstar, in an age where clubs, Manchester United in particular, have been accused of lashing out bloated sums to capture any kind of talent – from the average to the extraordinary. It is a fillip and reassurance to the "brand" – a term big clubs throw around so often these days – an indication that Manchester United still have the muscle and the romance to attract the world's best.
Which brings us to the question itself – can Zlatan still be classified as one, considering he comes from a League where he has spent four consecutive seasons winning the title on a canter? At a time when anonymity, more than any noteworthy strike, has been the overarching theme for Sweden at the Euros? Will he slow down United's fledgling, thundering attacking moves from the likes of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford? Will he become the elephant in the room, in a club where, equally often, such characters have thrived and decapitated? How many seasons does he have left in him, this ageing and fading star?
We are all free to speculate until August, in our own ways, as Manchester United travel to Sweden and China as part of their pre-season routine, which has flattered to deceive too many times now to be seen as anything of an indication. What remains uncontested, though, is that Zlatan is a serial winner, holder of 28 major trophies in his cabinet, apart from 2 Serie A titles stripped off from his Juventus days. United have so often tended to sign promise, and at best, recognise outstanding performance over a season or two. Every one of these times, fans have had to head to YouTube to watch compilations, "dribbles, goals and assists" as part of "best of" packages. This time, though, there is no such need, and the worry is only about how such a serial winner, a talent that would eclipse everyone else's on the pitch, would fit into the scheme of things.
For a start, the mutual admiration society with newly appointed manager Jose Mourinho can work itself into motion, and the club's biggest challenge would be to ensure these two egos remain in sync and never at loggerheads, considering the damage either one of them can unleash on team morale. The prospect of both of them thriving or bottling it under such high expectations is one to relish for the neutral, and one that brings nervous excitement and cautious optimism for fans.
Good, bad or ugly, we will not know until a ball is kicked in a competitive fixture, but Zlatan is a signing that is refreshingly and relievingly new in its profile and announcement. It is one no fan is likely to complain about, at least for now.
First Published On : Jul 1, 2016 14:25 IST