STOCKHOLM Evergreen striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic may have exceeded the expectations of many in the first half of the Premier League season, but former Manchester United midfielder Bojan Djordjic is not surprised he has quickly become the team's leader.
A room mate of Ibrahimovic when they played for Sweden's Under-21 side, Djordjic predicted that the 35-year-old Ibra would make his mark at Old Trafford the moment he signed on a free transfer from Paris St Germain this year.
"He's not a loud player on the pitch but he shows it in the tunnel, he shows it on the training ground, and of course he shows it on the pitch," Djordjic told Reuters.
"When you need him, he's there. If he goes through a bad patch, he comes through it. He leads the team."
Now a pundit on Swedish TV and for Manchester United's in-house channel MUTV, the well-travelled Djordjic was on the books for six years at Old Trafford.
Spending most of his time out on loan, Djordjic played just one Premier League game for the Red Devils, but he understands the club's culture and believes Ibrahimovic is helping them rediscover the aura of invincibility that existed under Alex Ferguson.
"People are seeing some excitement, they need a profile, they need a winner, and Zlatan is a proven winner. If you look through the United squad, there aren't too many you can rely on when things get tough," he said.
The Serbian-born 34-year-old has seen Ibrahimovic develop from a coltish, talented teenager at Malmo to one of the most dominant forwards in world football.
"He's always stayed away from major injuries, he's always been one step ahead, putting things into his game to develop. He's not the same player as he was 15 years ago, he was more like (Cristiano) Ronaldo when he was coming through," Djordjic said.
"Somewhere along the line he became a goal machine. His reading and understanding of the game became better, because it was something he had built in - it's something you cannot teach a player.
"If you look at him now, he's always on the last shoulder, making unbelievable runs that leave him one on one with the keeper, even though his pace is not his strength."
If he scores against Middlesbrough on Saturday, Ibrahimovic could break his previous record of 50 goals in a calendar year, and Djordjic expects him to stay at Old Trafford for another season in a bid to win the one major trophy lacking from his CV.
"If they play Champions League football next season, Zlatan will still be there," he said.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)