Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s advancing years will not stop the powerful Sweden striker handing Manchester United the passport to success on all fronts, according to Jose Mourinho.
Mourinho hailed Ibrahimovic as a star “at the top of his qualities” after the 34-year-old sealed United’s 3-1 Premier League victory over Bournemouth with a 20-yard strike.
New United boss Mourinho insisted Ibrahimovic has not only the leadership qualities to mentor Old Trafford’s youngsters but also the razor-sharp edge to justify his talismanic role this term.
Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney and Ibrahimovic struck to hand United a comfortable opening-weekend win on the south coast, before Mourinho backed his squad to chase success both at home and in Europe.
“The first thing I can tell you is that his table for breakfast and his table for meals, he is surrounded by the young ones, surrounded by the kids,” said Mourinho of summer signing Ibrahimovic.
“Luke Shaw, Marcus Rashford, these are the guys that are with him on the table. So he knows what he can be for them.
“But for the team, you have to forget the passport, you have to forget 34 years old, because the body and the mentality is not of a 34-year-old guy.
“So I think he’s at the top of his qualities.
“When I look to the players that were not on the pitch, (Jesse) Lingard, Rashford, (Henrikh) Mkhitaryan, Memphis Depay, Ashley Young, we have a lot.
“So when September arrives, when cup talk arrives and the Europa League arrives, we have the people to play and to try to be competitive in every competition.”
United’s slow start in Dorset was eased by Mata’s fortunate goal that handed the visitors a 1-0 half-time lead. Cherries skipper Simon Francis’ under-hit backpass let Mata through, only for Artur Boruc to produce a fine save.
The rebound cannoned off the hapless Francis and back into Mata’s path though, with the Spaniard tapping into the empty net.
After the break Ibrahimovic took control, laying on two gilt-edged chances for Rooney before the England captain nodded home from Anthony Martial’s miscued volley.
Ibrahimovic sealed the victory with a low, drilled finish, underscoring United’s determination to bring the charismatic hitman to the Premier League.
Defender Eric Bailly produced a composed Premier League debut, leading Mourinho to praise the 22-year-old for quickly proving his ability to cope with English football’s cut and thrust.
“When you buy somebody like him you have always the question mark which is how the personality adapts to a complete different situation from before,” said Mourinho of Bailly.
“Playing in Spain is different to England, playing in Villarreal is different to Man U.
“Playing to finish four, five, six in the table is different to trying to win it.
“But he’s showing big personality, which is incredible.
“He was injured against Leicester (in the Community Shield), he said nothing, played the 90 minutes, and the next day he couldn’t train.
“And yesterday he trained with the team for the first time.
“He was all week not training and with a problem. We were lucky because he did amazing work with one physio and my fitness coaches and he was able to put in a performance.
“But I think to be surrounded by organisation makes life easier. And the team was very solid, very compact.
“So we create a habitat of stability. But the reality is that he’s showing great qualities.”
Mourinho also revealed his pre-match nerves that took hold ahead of his league bow with United.
“To be honest before the match a little bit, yes,” said Mourinho, when asked if he had been nervous before kick-off. ” But to have that feeling is normal.
“The night before at the hotel was a boxing fight, I tried to go but no chance, too many people and they were too happy. So I didn’t have a chance to go.
“I’ll never forget one day I came to Old Trafford with Real Madrid, and before the match I was asking Sir Alex, are you still nervous? Yes. So I understood. Never change.
“Experience helps in many things, but always to have a little nerves is good.”
Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe was left to lament gifting United the opening goal, which completely altered the match’s complexion.
“The game was on a knife-edge until the first goal,” said Howe.
“The way the goal’s come about was a hard one to take, because it looked as though we’d got away with the mistake, and then for the unlucky ricochet we concede.
“And that moment’s tough, when you give a team like Manchester United the lead.”