Ronald Koeman is all set for his reunion with Zlatan Ibrahimovic … where he’ll remind him of what a nightmare he was!
Now- Everton boss Koeman gave a young Zlatan his big break at Ajax back at the end of 2001, promoting him to the first team and then watching the Swede blossom into a key part of the side that won the Dutch title that season.
Koeman fondly remembers those days when he was developing as a coach himself – and he revealed with a broad grin that the now- Manchester United talisman and his young team-mates certainly gave him an education!
“I managed Zlatan, he was young and sometimes also difficult! Yeah, but okay it’s normal,” he explained.
“He was funny but sometimes difficult, because when I was at Ajax we had a lot of young players at that time – Schneider, Van der Vaart, De Jong, Heitinga, Mido, Zlatan.
“We had really big talents at that time, but all were 19, driving Porsches, driving Ferraris… eh?!
“New generation. I can tell you some stories!”
Koeman has already got together with Ibrahimovich several times since his move to Manchester last summer, and joked with the player about the headaches he induced in those exciting days in Amsterdam.
Yet the Blues’ manager freely admits his one-time tormentor also first gave notice of his world-class talent at Ajax, and that he not only became one of the greats but is still a true star.
“It was good. It was a nice period. It was good for me as a young coach at that time,” he said of his time as Ajax coach. “But they know. They know — if you ask him.
“I met Zlatan three or four times in the last four or five months. And if we speak about that time he knows – he knows perfectly how he was when he was 19 and how he is now.”
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Asked if he fined the Swede a few times, Koeman replied with a smile: “We had some really strong talks to him, yes!”
But he added of Ibrahimovic: “He is still one of the best and I still admire the boy.
“I know him really well, and he is still showing really well at his age, being still so important for the team and scoring goals, showing he’s still one of the best – I have great respect for him.
“I’m not surprised [at him still being a star at age 35] because he really has that talent and he’s so strong, and maybe mentally he’s one of the strongest players I know.”
Koeman also believes his current star striker Romleu Lukaku can learn things from the master — though he was quick to defend the Belgian after critics took him to task for a subdued performance in Everton’s Merseyside derby loss to LIverpool at the weekend.
He believes Lukaku has Ibrahimovic-type mental strength that can take him to the very top – if he follows the same maturing process.
“You can’t compare a 23-year-old boy with Zlatan now. Zlatan makes those steps through his whole career, and the mental way, I don’t have any doubt about Rom in that case,” he explained.
“He really is that player who thinks a lot about football and he’s really honest in his performances.
“Rom knows by himself when it’s good and when it isn’t good — like last Saturday, he was not performing like he can do — and what the team needs.
“But it’s difficult.
“He was travelling back from [international duty last Saturday in] Russia at 5am and he’s a human being. He’s the top scorer of the league, he’s a great striker, working hard, he’s a human boy, not always a [10 out of] 10. It’s football.”