Move over Lionel Messi… the man who found Zlatan Ibrahimovic says the super Swede can eclipse Barca’s finest – because he is “an absolute winner”.
Leo Beenhakker signed Ibrahimovic as a raw teenager for Ajax from Malmo when he was the Dutch club’s technical director in 2001 and knew then he was a special talent.
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Beenhakker believes the potent Red Devil can do it and says he is still one of the world’s best at 35.
“He was 19 years old when I went to see him, had my first talks with him and I realised I was dealing with an absolute winner,” said the legendary Dutch coach.
“I’m pleased to say that I was not wrong all those years ago.
“I take my hat off to him and I take a deep bow for what Zlatan is still doing every week as a Manchester United striker. I have such massive respect for him.
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“He keeps on scoring goals and he can break Messi’s record for the amount of goals in 2016. And at the age of 35! In the Premier League!
“But even if he does not score, I will still take a deep bow. I can hardly put in words what this man has accomplished in his career.”
Ibrahimovic scored 48 goals in 110 appearances to help Ajax to two Eredivisie titles and a Dutch Cup triumph during his successful career with the Amsterdam club before joining Juventus in 2004.
He was a tearaway as a youth and Beenhakker remembers having to convince the top brass at Ajax that he was worth £7million.
“The Ajax board members asked me 10 times if I was sure I wanted to spend eight million euros on a young player from a tough neighbourhood in Malmo,” he said. “I said, ‘Yes, yes, yes’.
“I knew he was a difficult character when we found him in Sweden. But give me 11 players with a difficult character, and I will be champion of any league.’ I saw the winning mentality in that boy’s eyes the moment I met him.
“He looked me straight in the eyes and wasn’t scared of anything – not scared of moving to a country where he couldn’t speak the language, not scared of playing in front of 50,000 fans every week and not scared of the adventure.”
Beenhakker, 74, still watches his former prodigy play on TV and says he can see the same winning mentality he had as a teenager.
“When I see him play for United, I still see the same player as in 2001 when he arrived at Ajax,” he said.
“He keeps on showing a drive and a passion on the pitch, which is incredible when you consider all the things he has won and all the things he has gone through in his career and life.”
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Typical of the super-cool Ibrahimovic, he is relaxed about trying to beat his former Barcelona pal Messi.
His 17 goals for United – in addition to 33 he put away for Paris Saint-Germain before leaving in the summer – have taken him to 50 for 2016, and he does not see what all the fuss is about.
“I go into a season to do better than last season,” he said. “I know my last season was perfect, so I try to do it more than perfect and this is what I’ve been doing for the last 15 years.
“What I’m doing now is nothing new, it’s just another season in my story.
“Apparently, it is news for many of them. But the people who know me, players who played with me, they know it’s just another day at work.”