Why Barcelona fans may yet learn to love Zlatan Ibrahimovic

by Alex Stamp

For Zlatan Ibrahimovic a year must seem a heck of a long time. Less than twelve months ago, the Swede was being unveiled as the newest star at the Camp Nou, such was his talent that Joan Laporta and Pep Guardiola were prepared to let stalwart Samuel Eto’o depart in the opposite direction.

Fast forward and you find a very different picture. Ibrahimovic, far from setting the Camp Nou alight with dazzling displays, has rather fizzled out-and found himself eclipsed by Barcelona’s youth products Pedro and Bojan Krkic. Barcelona fans – who tend to love their own more than most – have rather taken to these new boys over the big money Swede, who found himself jeered by disgruntled home fans last season.

Such has been the sense of disappointment in the Swede’s performances, that less than a year on, the word is he is on his way out – possibly with a move back to Italy, or onwards to the Premier League.

With David Villa in the bag, there is even more competition for places among the Barcelona front-line, and Ibrahimovic is hardly flavour of the month. Plus there is the economic situation to contend with, Barcelona could easily service some of their well-documented fiscal problems with a big money sale.

With the bigger names practically indispensable, and unwilling to go, Ibrahimovic could certainly fit the bill of a sell-able squad member - though whether Barcelona would be willing to write off such a large loss after just one year is less than certain.

Yet despite a poor first season – and incidentally, Ibrahimovic is not alone in struggling when they first arrive at a big club – it is worth remembering the reasons why Pep Guardiola signed Ibrahimovic in the first place. For all the talk of his poor record at the highest level, Ibrahimovic’s amalgam of height, technique and finishing, is rarely seen around the world of football.

As Fabio Capello, his former boss at Juventus, once said:

“When Zlatan arrived in Italy he was a rough diamond. But now he is very complete, the best striker in the world and impossible to mark inside the penalty area.”

Guardiola, a man known to be a fan of Patrick Kluivert from his playing days, realised what Ibrahimovic could bring to a Barcelona line-up big on talent, but short on inches. While it represented a gamble, and a costly one at £40m, which has not yet paid off, there is still much that Ibrahimovic can bring to this Barcelona team over the next few seasons.

Nor too, is his record that appalling for a striker in his first season. 16 league goals, including the winner against Real Madrid, plus two goals against Arsenal in the Champions League are more than what Dimitar Berbatov and Karim Benzema managed for Manchester United and Real Madrid last season, and the same as Eto’o managed at Inter Milan.

But the simple truth is that while Barcelona expected Ibrahimovic to take them onto the next level, it simply, and understandably, proved beyond him. Whether the fault lies with the player or with the club is irrelevant, the important question is what happens next.

If he goes, then the mystery of Ibrahimovic, a player capable of brilliance and banality in equal measure, will move on to another suitor who believes they can get the best out of him.

If he stays, then it is up to the player himself, who when perhaps freed from the shackles of the expectation of being the newest star in the Barcelona galaxy, may yet live up to those expectations once more.

With Thierry Henry gone, David Villa likely to be installed on the left side and Lionel Messi on the right, there is still conceivably a place for him in the Barcelona line-up. But with the likes of Pedro and Bojan, not to mention Villa and Andres Iniesta capable of slotting seamlessly into this forward line, the key for Ibrahimovic will be keeping himself in there.

It is not beyond him, as one talented enough to play regularly for some of Europe’s finest coaches, but after a slow start to his Barcelona career he has a lot of catching up to do.

But don’t rule him out just yet. Because if Guardiola can find a way of unlocking his undoubted talent, then perhaps the Barcelona fans may yet learn to love Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Author Info

Alex Stamp

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7 Responses

  1. Kevin Coleman Kevin Coleman says:

    Thanks for the article, Alex.

    I like Ibra, and would love him to do well at Barcelona and prove the doubters wrong but as you mentioned the Catalans much prefer to see their own rather than foreign talent. This is obvious in the team line-up, and the home grown players getting every chance possible.

    But you don’t outline the title of the post, why would Barca fans learn to love Ibra? Yes he is tall and strong unlike the rest of the front line, but as it turned out for Spain and their dispense of Torres this summer it’s not a winning necessity.

    I think he’s surplus to requirements. David Villa will obviously start almost every game, and that’s goes without saying with Messi. And after Pedro showed last season and this summer, he’ll become virtually undroppable soon enough.

    1. Alex Stamp says:

      Thanks Kevin, well on the contrary I think Spain’s success showed that small can succeed, but I still think he can thrive. He’s not just about his height-sure it’s an obvious advantage, but he has got a lot of attributes which I think are different from anything else Barcelona have right now-which may yet help his cause.

  2. Tim says:

    I totally agree, and think the comparison with Berbatov is very apt in making this point.

    The problem with a player like Ibrahimovic is finding out what motivates and inspires him. He’s gifted, that much is beyond doubt. He has class, a good touch, an intelligent football brain and the technique to score from anywhere. Motivation should be the hunt for trophies and awards but while I would imagine Ibra wants to always be the star of the show, the self-confidence (that borders on arrogance) that made players like Cantona, Henry, (Cristiano) Ronaldo and Totti, for example, world class players seems to have disappeared from Zlatan.

    but how do you make him feel world class when he’s overshadowed by Villa, Iniesta, Xavi and Messi, and less in favour than teenagers Pedro and Bojan?

  3. GHeywood says:

    Ibrahimovic is a strange one,
    If he leaves where will he go?
    Most of the teams that have the money that Barca will want (20 mill) either already have good strikers or may not be willing to gamble on him. At a push I can think of Bayern being a possible solution or maybe back to Italy.

    Villa’s left sided performances at the world cup may be his saviour. But who can rule out Barca signing another player which would put him even more into the shade, Fabregas for example.

    1. Kevin Coleman Kevin Coleman says:

      I don’t know what new rules and stipulations in the Serie A would allow this, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him return to either Inter Milan or Juventus.

      In England, I’m sure Man City and Chelsea would sniff about, especially with Drogba moving on in years

  4. Varun says:

    David Villa was bought as a replacement fro Henry not Ibra. Its a plus that Villa can play central but he was brought to replace Henry.

    Reason I and many Barca supporters don’t like Ibra is his attitude and capacity to play within the Barca mode of play.
    He wonders around the box and slows down the intensity of play just around the area where its needed to be amped up.
    I absolutely loved Kluivert, he was hard working, chased down useless balls, could dribble, win one on ones and link up with others, Ibra can’t seen to do any of them.
    Reason he divides opinion is he scored wining goal against Madrid and was the lone scorers in 5-6 matches, hence he is difficult to ridicule him entirely,
    But nonetheless if given an opportunity i would prefer Bojan to him.
    Bojan is young and has 800 goals in youth system, he knows those 8 yards pretty well.

    1. Kevin Coleman Kevin Coleman says:

      I agree here, Villa was brought into to play on the left hand side (replacing Henry). ZIbra’s position is more under threat from Pedro and Bojan.

      Bojan will come into the side more, but maybe after the coming season especially with David Villa in the side now and Pedro continuing to impress when he’s given the chance.

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