He turned 35 on Monday and a tale told from his opening days as a Manchester United player is one that encompasses Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s longevity.
The Swede began training alongside Jose Mourinho’s squad following their difficult pre-season tour of China after being afforded extra time off post-European Championship. With it came the expected aura, tricks and goals; the winning mentality which has always set him apart from others.
There was something else, however, which left United’s stars bowled over and it came by way of additional help in the form of personal physiotherapist Dario Fort.
Players at Carrington – as dedicated as they come themselves – could scarcely believe the level of professionalism their new striker came with.
It offers a case study for Zlatan’s supreme conscientiousness towards his trade and why, after more than 750 career games, he is still revered as one of the best in Europe.
Ander Herrera said this week that ‘he is very, very aggressive and demanding but in a good way’, and those characteristics are by no means ‘do as I say, not as I do’.
For Ibrahimovic, his own house must be in order before commanding the best from others. And that is where Fort comes in, a close friend appointed to tend to his every medical need.
The pair worked together with a specific fitness regime in the weeks leading up to his pre-season to make sure he was raring to go.
He does not sit on Mourinho’s bench, with doctor Steve McNally and physio Neil Hough remaining the matchday medics tending to on-field injuries but he does support the club’s medical staff at every match. Fort is paid by Manchester United rather than Ibrahimovic himself.
Fort, the Italian who used to work in AC Milan’s academy before striking a bond with Ibrahimovic, is now also a confidante, knowing how to eradicate bad habits and keep him fighting fit. There is more to Ibrahimovic’s longest injury lasting a mere 45 days than just good luck.
He has made a concerted effort over the past five years to improve, to prepare more stringently, not batting away ‘boring’ warm-ups and instead treating them as the most important aspect of his quest for perfection.
Ibrahimovic will doubtless have that down as a reason he carries on unabated. Fresher limbs, less likely to pick up knocks which can niggle for longer post-30.
There too is the almost daily routine he puts himself through on Fort’s guidance. In their world, regenerating after a fixture is now more important than anything else. It is serving them well.
Whether hitting the treadmill while listening to reggae music to calm the mind or lifting weights, all the extra is done to elongate a career, finesse a striking structure.
Ibrahimovic always said he wanted a doctor or physio as his best friend and for a number of years that is what he has acquired.
Fort joined United from Paris Saint-Germain in July, just as Mourinho’s new No 9 was readying for training with the first team. Their one-on-one work together at AC Milan saw Ibrahimovic quickly realise he needed the imposing figure alongside him in the French capital. He had found the man who would help him prolong his career.
Studying PSG’s set-up with Milan’s, the player wanted Fort by his side. He made the switch and never looked back, a key reason why Ibrahimovic scored 113 goals in 117 Ligue 1 starts.
Fort also made an impression on other PSG stars, including Marco Verratti and the club had hoped he might stay on to look after them despite the allure of Old Trafford.
In fact, upwards of 10 looked at the work Fort undertook with Ibrahimovic and wanted a slice and felt they were better served being treated by him instead of the club’s existing staff.
That is said to have caused some friction, with Fort and Thiago Silva’s personal physio Marcelo Pereira Da Costa thought to have been unpopular with medical specialists at Parc des Princes.
No such problems at United, however. Mourinho has welcomed Fort into his inner sanctum and is easy-going with Ibrahimovic’s will to have his companion close all week, someone who understands his strains and tension with the remedies to match.
There was no great discussion as to whether Ibrahimovic should be afforded a four-day break when others went off on international duty last month and he will enjoy similar treatment after starting every Premier League match so far.
Some other players are treated by Fort, whose expertise around Carrington has been welcomed by those close to the manager, who keeps his staff to a tight number.
Formerly of Chelsea with Mourinho, Carlos Lalin looks after the fitness work at United and makes sure to communicate closely with Fort as to Ibrahimovic’s specific plans, which include martial arts.
Taking a longer summer break was nothing new either, with similar time spent back home in Sweden two years ago, Fort keeping in daily contact with Laurent Blanc as to his progress.
All this is why United sources firmly believe it is merely a formality that their talisman will sign an extension to his one-year deal at the end of this season. They can see the hard graft which goes into producing these displays well into his mid-30s.
Ibrahimovic broke United’s power records during his medical at the club, showing his sheer strength after joining the Red Devils on a free transfer.
History suggests Ibrahimovic and his physio have the balance just right. Wondering why Herrera claimed that Ibrahimovic looks as if he is 28? Don’t be, he knows his fitness forte.