As Zlatan Ibrahimovic walked off the pitch on Thursday night, shirtless and fresh from scoring his sixth goal in eight Manchester United starts, it was hard to believe he is about to turn 35.
The Swedish summer signing, who will celebrate his birthday on Monday, had given his jersey to a grateful Zorya Luhansk player and revealed a rippling physique that made everyone inside Old Trafford collectively breathe in. That intimidatingly low body-fat percentage reminded me of 300 with Gerard Butler, the 2006 film about Spartan warriors that involved more six-packs than plotlines and shamed me back to the gym.
While it is undoubtedly strange to write about Ibra’s hulking frame – yes, I’m aware of this – it is arguably the most visible sign of his professionalism and hunger to achieve greater success (aside from his goals, obviously). It is also a central reason why the former Paris Saint-Germain star is confident of playing in England with United for at least two seasons, and even extending his career to the ripe old age of 40.
But seriously, how many other players of Zlatan’s age are in such good condition? These elder statesmen of football are generally a little rounder at the waist, softer around the stomach and slightly heavier on the scales. Ryan Giggs is probably the most pertinent example of physical longevity from recent Reds history, after the Welshman led the way for modern players to extract benefits from yoga and meticulous dieting in order to extend his career. He even ate dry wholemeal toast without butter, the mad man.
While Giggs was all about maintaining agility and cardiovascular endurance in midfield, Ibrahimovic appears to focus on power and core strength to retain his most potent attacking attributes. His interest in martial arts even lends itself to football, especially when you witness his unerring ability to raise either leg above his head to control the ball. I pull a groin just thinking about that act of flexibility.
Such physical excellence means you won’t read any stories about an impending retirement when Zlatan turns 35 on Monday. The future is the only focus and his start at United suggests Jose Mourinho is correct in his assessment that his former Internazionale hitman has plenty left in the tank. After all, Thursday’s match-winner is the only Red who has featured in all 10 competitive matches this campaign.
That fact represents a show of confidence from the manager and Jose was almost amused on Wednesday when one reporter at a press conference asked if Ibrahimovic would be rested against Zorya. It struck him as odd with the two-week international break looming large, now that his striker has stopped playing for his native Sweden and is able to enjoy a well-earned rest before going again at Liverpool on 17 October.
While these are still early days in Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s United career, it appears he is physically capable of handling the relentless English schedule and our shredded striker is an example to his team-mates. His condition is no fluke; it is the by-product of hard work and dedication.
Now, I’m off to work on my body-fat percentage…
This article first appeared on manutd.com