Zlatan Ibrahimovic sealed the first major silverware of Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United reign and broke Southampton’s hearts as the Swedish star’s late goal clinched a dramatic 3-2 victory in Sunday’s League Cup final.
Ibrahimovic was one of Mourinho’s marquee signings in the close-season and he repaid his manager’s faith with a typically dominant display on the big occasion at Wembley.
The 35-year-old opened the scoring with a blistering free-kick before Jesse Lingard doubled United’s lead.
Manolo Gabbiadini sparked a thrilling Southampton fightback, scoring just before halftime and again early in the second half.
But Ibrahimovic had the last word as his 87th minute header – his 26th goal of the campaign – ensured Mourinho joined United legend Alex Ferguson and Nottingham Forest great Brian Clough as the only managers to win the League Cup four times.
Mourinho is the first United manager to win a top prize in his maiden season at Old Trafford, a feat not even Ferguson or Matt Busby achieved.
It was also the 54-year-old’s 19th major trophy of his glittering career.
With United trailing well behind Premier League leaders Chelsea, Mourinho needed this success to guarantee players, fans and the club’s hierarchy remain in his corner.
But the serial winner will hope the victory acts as a catalyst to claim bigger prizes in the near future, just as it did when the League Cup was the first silverware of his maiden spell with Chelsea.
“Ibrahimovic won the game for us because he was outstanding,” Mourinho said.
“Our opponents were better than us for long periods of the game and didn’t deserve to lose over 90 minutes.
“Ibrahimovic made the difference. He gave us a cup.”
In the absence of injured playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan and with Wayne Rooney again on the bench, the stage was set for Ibrahimovic to cement his status as United’s talisman and he wasted little time stamping his authority on his first showpiece occasion in England.
Demanding the ball right from the start, Ibrahimovic’s astute pass set up France midfielder Paul Pogba for a fierce long-range effort that stung the palms of Saints goalkeeper Fraser Forster.