Not since Sir Alex Ferguson and Roy Keane were at their snarling best and in perfect harmony, have Manchester United seen a manager-player relationship as close as the one between Jose Mourinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
So it should be no surprise that ahead of Sunday’s game at Sunderland and with Mourinho facing criticism despite a 20-match unbeaten run, Ibrahimovic is the first to come to his rescue and join him in encouraging the club to spend again this summer.
‘I think the coach is doing the absolute maximum with the team he has. Two hundred per cent. If we were good enough to be No 1, we would be No 1 in the table,’ argues the 27-goal striker, who won a Serie A title with Mourinho at Inter Milan.
‘He still has the same winning mentality, because that you don’t lose. When you have it, you have it. It is nothing you learn or can try to be. Either you are, or you are not.’
Ibrahimovic has won 11 league titles in his last 13 years as a player, with Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan and Paris St-Germain.
He has been exempt from Mourinho’s sharp tongue this term.
At the training ground, the 35-year-old ‘Lion’ has taken it upon himself to be his manager’s Keane-style enforcer, causing some disquiet if he admonishes players for not producing the perfect pass for him or treating the Carrington training ground as his personal fiefdom.
Though Ibrahimovic’s style is almost pantomime arrogance, it’s still a long way removed from the humble behaviour Ferguson expected of his star players to everyone at the club regardless of status.
Mourinho doesn’t mind, though. He uses Ibrahimovic as a weapon to raise standards.
In return, the centre-forward is happy to back the manager’s abrasive style.
‘I know him very well. He is direct in his work. He likes to look into your eyes and tell you if you’re s*** or not. I prefer that,’ says Ibra, who is holding talks with the club about extending his one-year deal.
‘He sends you the message he is thinking and he is the boss, he decides and controls the situation. It is the way it works and I am from the old generation, which I think was more like that.
‘At half-time against Everton [last Tuesday] he told us we were not good enough. We should hear it because we were not.’
The timing of Ibrahimovic’s comments are interesting because almost by coincidence Mourinho has launched a campaign to try and push Ed Woodward and the United owners to sanction another round of heavy spending.