Zlatan Ibrahimovic was never far from a back-page headline during his incredible first season at Manchester United.
Aside from his remarkable haul of 28 goals in all competitions, the super Swede commanded equal attention off the pitch, with his witty one-liners proving popular with fans and journalists alike in England.
Following the news about his new contract, watch highlights of Zlatan’s memorable first year at United in the video above and read on for our look at 20 Zlatan-inspired moments that really got people talking in 2016/17…
1. “It’s Zlatan Time”
Ibrahimovic’s arrival in Manchester was an expectedly high-profile affair and proved to be one of the biggest moments of the summer. In typical Zlatan fashion, a great quote wasn’t far behind, with the striker quoted in Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet as saying: “I admire Eric Cantona, but I won’t be King of Manchester. I will be God of Manchester.” How’s that for confidence?
2. Arriving in style
Just 12 days later, fans got a first glimpse of United’s new striker in action, during a pre-season friendly against Galatasaray in Ibrahimovic’s home country. What followed was a moment of brilliance, as Zlatan announced his arrival with a superb acrobatic effort in an eventual 5-2 win. Not a bad introduction!
3. The first of many
There may have been a few new faces on the pitch when the Reds met then-champions Leicester at Wembley, but this was a case of classic United, as Zlatan headed home a late winner to secure the Community Shield. And his start to life at the club would get better yet…
4. “Next time, pass to me!”
After scoring on his Premier League bow against Bournemouth, Zlatan found the net twice on his home debut against Southampton, but wasn’t satisfied with his tally for the night. “Next time, pass to me,” he jokingly told Paul Pogba after the game, after being named Man of the Match.
5. Four in four
At the start of September, Ibrahimovic scored against Manchester City to become the third player to net four goals in his first four Premier League appearances for United, after Louis Saha and Robin van Persie. His volley became the most talked about moment of the season, prompting 32,000 tweets per minute on Twitter.
6. More major milestones
United’s trip to Swansea in November proved an important day for Zlatan. Not only did the Reds win 3-1 thanks to two goals from the Swede, but his strikes sent more records tumbling. His first was the 25,000th goal of the Premier League era, while his second was the 400th of his career. “I thought it was just me who had scored 25,000!” he said afterwards.
7. Status set in stone
Two weeks later, it was announced that Ibrahimovic would have a statue built in his honour at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, after he was named Sweden’s top player for the 10th consecutive year. While fans in England had been won over by his personality off the pitch, this was a concrete reminder (literally) of Zlatan’s on-field successes.
8. Another last-gasp goal
Into December, then, and Zlatan delivered the perfect early Christmas present for fans during the Reds’ visit to Crystal Palace. After setting up Pogba’s equaliser at Selhurst Park, Ibra turned from provider into goalscorer, finishing coolly to send the travelling fans into raptures and wrap up all three points.
9. The perfect gift
It wasn’t just on the pitch where the forward was spreading festive cheer. On 18 December, Ibrahimovic took some time away from his goalscoring exploits to meet Liam, a pupil from one of Manchester United Foundation’s partner schools, as part of Chevrolet’s ‘Christmas Dreams’ campaign. “Have you met the other players yet? Well, after this, you don’t need to meet anyone else,” he joked. Well played, Zlatan.
10. Zlatan to the rescue
While United fans won’t need reminding that any goal against Liverpool is a good one, Ibra’s late strike against the Merseysiders in January – his first in the fixture – was crucial, as it saved the Reds from defeat at Old Trafford. Yet again, the big man produced on the big occasion, a sign of things to come…
11. An act of kindness
In February, Zlatan was on hand to make another youngster’s day, in a moment which would draw praise from fans all over the world. Ibrahimovic joined Pogba at the Aon Training Complex to surprise Samuel, an 11-year-old United fan with cerebral palsy, and invited him to see the Reds in action against Saint-Etienne a few days later. Of course, Zlatan put on a show for one of his biggest fans…
Ibrahimovic was in fine form during United’s Europa League Round of 32 first leg against Saint-Etienne at Old Trafford, netting his first hat-trick for the club, taking his tally for the season to 23. Unsurprisingly, the striker was voted Man of the Match for his performance, collecting 66 per cent of fans’ votes on Twitter.
After seeing his treble against Saint-Etienne, many fans would have woken up the next day thinking ‘how can I be more like Zlatan?’ Well, we asked the man himself, as Ibrahimovic took charge of the club’s official Instagram account for the day to give tongue-in-cheek advice to supporters. If you haven’t seen it already, it’s well worth a watch.
14. Up for the cup
February’s EFL Cup final between United and Southampton at Wembley saw Ibrahimovic back at his best, as the striker scored twice, including another late winner, to help the Reds to glory. His first, a stunning free-kick, was later named Goal of the Month for February. No prizes for guessing who won Player of the Month…
15. Lion King
At the start of April, in an interview with Sky Sports, Ibrahimovic was asked if he considered himself the best striker in the Premier League – cue another classic response! “Lions, they don’t compare themselves with humans,” he replied, an answer which would be picked up by every sports website and newspaper in the country.
16. The next James Bond?
“Zlatan is Zlatan. I come with what I’m able to do,” Ibrahimovic said at the start of April. “I’m a little bit curious also to be an actor. Something like Bourne Identity, something like that, a secret agent. The next James Bond? Why not!” Watch this space!
17. Like a fine wine
After scoring in United’s impressive 3-0 win at Sunderland in April, a strike which would unfortunately prove to be his last of the campaign, Zlatan simply said what we were all thinking. “It seems like the older I get, the more intelligent I get. You don’t waste so much energy. I feel like Benjamin Button – I was born old and I will die young.”
18. “Giving up is not an option”
Zlatan’s superb season at Old Trafford was cruelly cut short during United’s Europa League Round of 16 second leg against Anderlecht at the end of April. Ibrahimovic, along with team-mate Marcos Rojo, suffered cruciate knee ligament damage and had to be withdrawn. He soon released a statement, however, showing the same determination he had shown on the pitch throughout the season, saying: “I will be out for a while, but giving up is not an option.”
19. A grand homecoming
Fast forward one month and United had progressed to the UEFA Europa League final in Ibra’s absence. While the script had seemingly been written for him to lift the trophy in his home country against his former club, Ajax, Zlatan could play no part. He did, however, come onto the pitch to celebrate the Reds’ 2-0 win with the fans, scenes which have left an enduring image.
20. Remarkable progress
At the end of May, just weeks after his injury against Anderlecht, Ibrahimovic posted an update to his Instagram account, showcasing the remarkable progress he had made in recovery. A lion indeed, one whose talent on the field and humour off it left an indelible mark in 2016/17.