LONDON • Paul Pogba celebrated the new year with an ice bath, Jose Mourinho watched the midnight fireworks light up the Manchester sky from his hotel room and Zlatan Ibrahimovic saw 2017 in by delivering yet another brutal put-down to his critics.
The Swedish striker believes his 17 goals for Manchester United, before their match against West Ham this morning (Singapore time), have made his doubters "eat their b***s".
United needed goals from Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba on 85 and 86 minutes to overcome Middlesbrough 2-1 at Old Trafford on Saturday, but the home side felt they should have been ahead before half-time.
Ibrahimovic had what appeared a legitimate goal struck off by the referee, Lee Mason, for his collision with Victor Valdes despite the incident clearly occurring after the No. 9 made contact with the ball.
The finish would have taken the Swede to 51 goals last year, level with Lionel Messi's highest mark for the calendar year.
Devils' late show
United scored twice after 85 minutes to win from a losing position for the first time in the league at Old Trafford since the phrase "Fergie time" was coined, when Steve Bruce scored in the 86th and 96th minutes against Sheffield Wednesday on April 10, 1993. That victory put United on course for Alex Ferguson's first Premier League title.
Yet, Ibrahimovic was content with the three points and in his own particular fashion took personal satisfaction from the stellar start to his United career.
"I had a fantastic year, I am not complaining. I came to United, my first six months here has been more than amazing. I am super happy and let's hope we can continue the ride and keep going," he said.
"I feel good. I don't know how many years I have left but I am enjoying the football. I came to the Premier League and everyone thought it would not be possible but like always I make them eat their b***s."
Asked to explain this, the 35-year-old said: "It gives me a lot of energy, trust me. A lot of energy because they get paid to talk s**t and I get paid to play with my feet, that's how I enjoy it."
United recorded a fifth consecutive league victory and Ibrahimovic said of his denied goal: "Why he (the referee) whistled, I don't know. At first he gave the goal and after 30 seconds, he changed his mind.
"There was not a lot to speak to him because if you open your mouth, they give you a yellow."
If United are to force an unlikely title challenge in the second half of the season, the Swede will be key.
What became evident against Middlesbrough was that Ibrahimovic has become the de facto captain of this group.
Before kick-off, Ibrahimovic made a point of shaking the hand of each of his team-mates. When he discovered that David de Gea had retreated to his goal in front of the Stretford End, Ibrahimovic yelled his name and raised his hand in the air towards the Spaniard, who turned around and gave the same gesture back.
Although Chris Smalling wore the captain's armband, Ibrahimovic was the leader of the team.
Wayne Rooney's absence, with a muscle injury, was barely noticed.
Ibrahimovic even speaks like a captain in post-match interviews.
"That was not important - to level with Messi. The important thing was to win," he said. "For me the win is the same if I would beat Messi or not. Hopefully we can still win the league."
THE GUARDIAN, THE TIMES, LONDON