Zlatan: the €68million question

by David Bevan

The alice band of brothers

Tall but not a targetman, quick of mind but not of body, incredibly expensive but arguably not first-choice – critical descriptions that could match two players at world-class football clubs, both of whom have been outshone this season by a younger colleague who allies a formidable work ethic with dazzling talent. Who was your first thought? The enigmatic Zlatan Ibrahimovic fits the bill, but the words above could also describe a certain Dimitar Berbatov.

Both Berba and Ibra find themselves exposed to the unforgiving eye of transfer speculation this summer after failing to match the stratospheric levels set by Wayne Rooney and Lionel Messi respectively. Outgoing Barcelona president Joan Laporta recently saw fit to scotch reports that Ibrahimovic was available for transfer. Sir Alex Ferguson followed suit by insisting Berbatov is still part of his plan to regain the Premiership title next season. The Bulgarian will be relieved to hear it, but the Swede’s future is less certain whatever Laporta may say.

Standing in

Barca and Chelsea certainly both deserved their league titles, but perhaps the main difference between Barcelona and Manchester United this season was that Messi, unlike Rooney, stayed fit for the entire campaign. If it had been the other way round, it may well have been United and Real Madrid celebrating instead. United fell one point short and Real would probably have done likewise had they not effectively given up once they heard that Barca were comfortably dispatching Valladolid on the final day.

United’s two league encounters with Blackburn encapsulate the Berbatov dilemma quite neatly. Alongside Rooney in the first at Old Trafford, he struck a superb opening goal. The image used by the BBC for the second at Ewood Park says everything about Berbatov’s unsuccessful attempt to fill the void left by Rooney’s late-season injury.

Goal-shy

Over at the Camp Nou, even the supremely confident Ibrahimovic must be concerned about his chances of hanging around to help defend Barca’s La Liga title and win back the Champions League. Ibra’s goal record in his debut La Liga season is good but more recently, the statistics are damning and tell no lies either. In their final four games in April, Barca struck five goals. Three of these came against bottom club Xerez and two went past Ibrahimovic’s former team-mate Julio Cesar in 180 minutes of Champions League semi-final football against Inter Milan.

Pep Guardiola put his trust in Ibrahimovic to lead the Barca line against his previous team in both matches, the second of which was built up as one of the most important in the club’s history. After all, when would the next opportunity arise to win the European Cup at the Bernabeu? Ibrahimovic failed to spark Barca, though, often slowing their play or losing possession just when the Blaugrana looked set to make a breakthrough.

Brilliant Bojan

When the Swede was substituted, it rubbed salt in his wounds that his replacement, his young competitor for the centre-forward role Bojan Krkic, nearly had the chance to celebrate what could have been one of the most famous goals in the club’s history. Bojan may have been denied by a handball decision given against Yaya Toure, but at least he had found the net.

When May arrived, Ibrahimovic found himself sidelined and Bojan took his place. Barca fired fifteen goals in their last four La Liga games to see off the challenge of Real Madrid and retain their title. Bojan scored three of them, all of which came from that inside-right channel that Samuel Eto’o used to call home. Whether sent clear by Xavi at El Madrigal, again at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan or by Dani Alves at the Camp Nou, the end result was the same.

Villa arrives

The goals scored by Bojan in those vital last few weeks of a thrilling finale to La Liga’s title race demonstrate exactly why Ibrahimovic must be worried. They each held all the hallmarks of another Spanish centre-forward, one who possesses a seat on the plane to South Africa, one better equipped than Bojan to deal with the pressure of a regular starting spot for the champions and one who now plays for Barcelona. David Villa is the player Barcelona were trying desperately to sign last summer and now they finally have their man.

In the glorious way they began those tricky away games against Villarreal and Sevilla, Barca showed why they do not need a targetman. The signing of Ibrahimovic supposedly meant they could now play a different way. A new plan B, if you like. The problem is that you only need plan B if plan A doesn’t work. With Bojan, Pedro, Villa and Messi competing to fill the three attacking positions at the Camp Nou next season, plan B would be best consigned back to Serie A.

4 Responses

  1. Dave Cooper says:

    Really hoping he doesn’t leave the Nou Camp, as he’s such a unique player. That said, if Fabregas arrives then I think he’s almost certain to go.

  2. Kevin Coleman Kevin Coleman says:

    Great post, David.

    I don’t think Barcelona will sell Ibrah this summer, despite the arrival of Villa to already add to the likes of Bojan and Pedro, but I think Pep will be keen to hold onto him for just another season or so to see what happens.

  3. David Bevan says:

    Cheers, much appreciated.

    I think it’s 50/50 at the moment, which doesn’t say much for his season. With Rosell looking probable as the next president and talking about managing the debt rather than talking up big signings, it could be that Zlatan moves on. Manchester City may fancy their chances given the Mancini link.

    They may well keep hold of him but the fact that Pep wanted Villa so much, combined with Ibra’s lack of involvement in those last four games, suggests he’s got an uphill battle on his hands to prove himself if he does stay.

  4. Archie_V says:

    I think we tend to assume that squads at the top level are built much as architects and engineers build their signature towers: burning the midnight oil calculating the tolerance of every beam and every strut, right down to the last micron. In fact, it’s all too often a mad rush based more on reaction than on action, with phone calls coming out of the blue and banks pointing out that numbers are already too far into the red.

    In this case, last summer Barcelona had three things to sort out: offload Eto’o, sign Villa and sign a wingback to take some of the pressure off Carles “Mr Multipurpose” Puyol. They expected all three to be quite straightforward, but they were wrong. The offers they assumed they’d get for Eto’o weren’t even trickling much less flooding in, and a new Valencia president decided he’d only sell Villa for silly money. On the brink of panic, Barcelona got a phone call out of the blue – or, rather out of the neroazzuri. Moratti said he’d take Eto’o off their hands in part exchange for the “9″ and wingback they were looking for (Ibra and Maxwell). Three birds with one stone.

    And the rest, as they say….

    Ibrahimovic was a major investment for Barcelona. He didn’t live up to expectations in his first year, but nor have many of their showcase signing – most famously Ronald Koeman, who had what is known in the parlance as a “right shocker”, and most recently Thierry Henry, who only came good in his second season.

    If Ibrahimovic wants to stay and keep trying, they’ll be happy to let him. After all, as David mentions, what’s in store for him if he fails: the bench.

    (Incidentally, I agree with the comment that they will sell Ibra if Arsenal can be persuaded to part with Fàbregas. There’s no way the banks will sanction another big signing unless it can be covered in full with a big sale.)

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply