Despite harbouring some reservations about his hairstyle, Lawrie McMenemy knows Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the man his old club Southampton must stop in Sunday’s League Cup final against Manchester United.
As Southampton manager, McMenemy led the south-coast club to their greatest success when they produced a huge upset to beat United 1-0 in the 1976 FA Cup final.
Forty-one years on, they are back at Wembley this weekend and McMenemy says the pony-tailed Ibrahimovic, 24 goals and counting in his maiden United season, could prove the difference.
“I’m not sure about his haircut. If you were a centre-half, you’d want to sneak a pair of scissors on. Maybe that could weaken him!” he told AFP in a telephone interview from his home in Hampshire, southern England on Wednesday.
“But he’s proved to be a fantastic player and he looks like he’s a character. He will lap it up, the big stage. You’ve got to watch him.
“If he can go to Wembley and be the match-winner, he’ll never be forgotten. But nor will ours, as Bobby Stokes proved.
“You haven’t got to be a legend to start with. Little Bobby wasn’t, but he certainly has been ever since.”
Stokes, who died of bronchial pneumonia aged 44, was the hero of Saints’ shock win over United in 1976, scoring their 83rd-minute winner with a left-foot shot from Jim McCalliog’s lobbed pass.
Southampton had finished sixth in the old Second Division and, in McMenemy’s words, “everybody expected us to get hammered”.
But after surviving an early onslaught from top-flight giants United, with young goalkeeper Ian Turner repelling everything Tommy Docherty’s side threw at him, they prevailed through Stokes’s goal.
McMenemy describes the time that elapsed between Stokes’s shot skidding past United goalkeeper Alex Stepney and the final whistle as “the longest seven minutes of my life”.