Zlatan Ibrahimovic bemused by criticism of Wayne Rooney

Stoke City 1 Manchester United 1

Zlatan Ibrahimovic bemused by criticism of Wayne Rooney

On Saturday the 31-year-old broke United’s all-time scoring record in sumptuous fashion, bending home an exceptional free-kick to secure a last-gasp equaliser.

Rooney was widely praised after notching his 250th United goal to move clear of Bobby Charlton - just as he was when breaking the World Cup winner’s England scoring record.

Yet despite such feats, the forward cannot shake off an undercurrent of antipathy from some and Ibrahimovic, widely appreciated as one of the finest strikers of his generation, struggles to understand why his team-mate is not cherished.

“He’s a complete player,” the Swede said. “Off the field he’s a real leader and on the field he’s just complete.

“He helps his team-mates well and has that big quality - he knows how to score goals, knows how to assist.

“But he works very hard, he’s got a good attitude and spirit. Everybody knows what Wayne is. But this country has to appreciate him.

“I don’t see any other strikers like him today. Give me some names. Tell me. And still, you’re not happy.”

Rooney is not unequivocally loved like Charlton, but his impact for club and country is undeniable.

Where Rooney will fit in the pantheon of United greats is up for debate, but Ibrahimovic pointed to giants of the past when underlining what he has achieved.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “He’s the top scorer of the club and I’m very happy for him.

“It’s a big thing you know - many great players have been here and his name is right on top.

“I’m very proud to have been on the same field as him when he did it and hopefully he can continue to do what he’s doing.”

Rooney’s memorable weekend continued on Sunday as the Football Writers’ Association presented him with the annual Tribute Award, recognising his outstanding contribution to the national game.

Jesse Lingard believes the forward deserves all the praise he is getting, saying United’s captain is an inspirational figure at Old Trafford.

“It’s an excellent record and for the young strikers coming through,” the home-grown winger said.

“Wayne has set a great example for them and we look up to him as a great leader and role model.

“It was mixed emotions, but we know it’s a great record that Wayne has set and it’s a great standard for the youngsters to look up to.”

Rooney’s stunning goal came right at the death of what had been a frustrating match for United at the bet365 Stadium, with the visitors falling behind in the 19th minute to a Juan Mata own-goal.

Jose Mourinho’s men bossed possession and had numerous chances to score, but were unable to make the most of them due to their own profligacy and solid play at the back by Stoke, with substitute Rooney’s late intervention subsequently bailing them out.

Mourinho stressed he would be targeting the Premier League title this season when he took charge of United last summer, but they are currently way off the pace in sixth place.

When asked if the title race was still alive for United, Michael Carrick said: “It is alive. We are a way off now, but we can never give up.

“We are always fighting right to the very end - that’s the only way we know.

“Anything can happen. There can be twists and turns. It is up to us to just focus on ourselves.”

Just prior to kick-off on Saturday, Stoke’s new signing from West Brom, Saido Berahino, was on the pitch being presented to the home fans.

The 23-year-old forward has not played a first-team match since September, with Albion boss Tony Pulis expressing concerns about his fitness, but Potters manager Mark Hughes is confident Berahino will soon have a positive impact at his new club.

Hughes said: “He is not where he needs to be t in terms of his fitness, but we can change that around quickly and he gives us something we have not really had for quite some time - someone who will play off the shoulder and, if he gets a chance, more often than not will take it.

“He is probably not going to be starting games any time soon but certainly he can have an impact.

“He has played games in the last month or so for the Under-23s - clearly that is not Premier League level, but he has had about four sets of 90 minutes in the last month, so he is not unfit.

“He’s not match-fit, but I think once he gets back into a senior group and is integrated and has a little bit of understanding of what we’re about, then he’s going to progress very quickly on all levels.”

STOKE: Grant, Johnson, Shawcross, Martins Indi, Pieters, Whelan, Adam (Afellay 63), Shaqiri (Ngoy 73), Allen, Arnautovic (Imbula 88), Crouch.

Subs not used: Bardsley, Muniesa, Given, Krkic

MAN UTD: de Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Jones, Blind, Fellaini (Rashford 56), Herrera, Pogba, Mata (Rooney 67), Ibrahimovic, Mkhitaryan (Lingard 73).

Subs not used: Carrick, Romero, Schweinsteiger, Darmian.

Referee: Mark Clattenburg

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