Jose Mourinho believes Manchester United’s players have been taken aback by the man behind the Zlatan Ibrahimovic myth.
The enigmatic former Paris Saint-Germain star has instantly endeared himself to the United faithful with a scissor-kick volley in the 5-2 friendly victory over Galatasaray before heading the winner in Sunday’s 2-1 Community Shield triumph over Premier League champions Leicester City.
Ibrahimovic has become noted throughout his career for regular egotistical and dryly comic outbursts, but Mourinho knows all about the fierce work ethic that lies behind the 34-year-old’s brilliance following their time together at Inter.
“I think probably the other players are surprised,” said Mourinho, who was speaking exclusively to BT Sport. “Not me because I know him, but probably the other players are surprised.
“Not with his quality, because the quality everybody knows. Probably a bit with his commitment and motivation because we are speaking about a 34-year-old man that won so much in his career, but probably even more surprised with the person.
“He is a good guy. What he looks like, it is not what he is. The words he says, he says for fun. He is the guy capable to go to the kitman and say ‘please give a towel to God’ and then laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh and laugh.
“The image he sells is not him, he is a good guy.”
Some critics voiced fears that Ibrahimovic’s arrival at Old Trafford on a one-year deal would hinder the rapid progress made by teenage striker Marcus Rashford, but Mourinho is convinced the England youngster will benefit from an invaluable experience.
“He [Ibrahimovic] is brilliant with the young boys. I think, for Rashford, this is a gift,” the former Chelsea boss explained.
“People can say he is not going to play every game from the start, like in the second part of last season, but this is a gift for the kid, too.
“We are so happy to have him. We couldn’t find a better striker than him to give us the stability we need.”
United will compete in the Europa League once again this season after finishing fifth in the Premier League last term.
It is the second time in the previous three years that United have failed to qualify for the Champions League and they dropped down into Europe’s second-tier competition following a botched group campaign last term.
Nevertheless, Mourinho is unequivocal over where he feels his new employers belong.
“Man United has to be in the Champions League,” he added. “I think that the Champions League is empty when Man United is not there.
“Imagine the Champions League without Man United, Real Madrid, Barcelona.
“There are a certain numbers of clubs that make it not a Champions League without these clubs. That’s Man United and their natural habitat.
“I wouldn’t be happy with just finishing in the top four. I don’t like to go to the players and tell them ‘let’s try to finish in the top four’ – let’s try to win every game. I think a big club like we are, we need to have this mentality.”
Watch the full interview with Jose Mourinho on BT Sport 1 from 10pm on Wednesday. BT Sport is the only place to watch all four major football competitions in one place in the UK, with exclusively live coverage of the Premier League, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League and the FA Cup.