Lionel Messi netted a hat-trick for Barcelona at the weekend against Espanyol in the Catalan derby. The little Argentine is of course their talisman. The man they look to for inspiration. He and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are completely different in terms of playing style and personality. One is the shy, introverted genius. The other is our beloved Zlatan who returns to his former club tomorrow night.
His time there irks him to this day in what was supposed to be his dream move. The chance to play for the greatest club side that has – arguably – graced a football pitch alongside a number of the game’s most renown players who were in their prime. But for one reason or another, Ibra’s time there was soured and he has always laid the blame at the door of Pep Guardiola who masterminded that era of dominance as coach.
I will not go into too much detail regarding the ins and outs of the discontent between the pair as we have heard it a million times. But, it is no secret that there was a clash of personalties between the two. Even though Ibra arrived from Internazionale for an eye-watering fee, his style of play was just not suited to that of Pep’s. Even though he ultimately gave the nod for the move to be sanctioned.
Nevertheless, the Swede still netted 16 goals in 29 appearances. Those figures pale in comparison to the tally he accumulated during his final season in Milan and of course up to now in Paris. Still, it was a pretty decent return for a player who was at a crossroads and out of favour.
Ultimately, it all stemmed from Lionel Messi being moved into the central role. That is what really killed Zlatan’s chances of being a long-term figure in that team and more often than not found himself on the bench. We just could not envisage that ever happening to him at Paris Saint-Germain!
Anyway, that led to revelations after he left the club and in ‘vintage’ Ibra fashion, he lifted the lid on his feud with the Catalan. In an interview with German paper Der Spiegel he said; “I told him that if I don’t fit in here, you have to please tell me that. But all I got was sweet talk; ‘Ibra you are a super player, you do everything right.’ But I still ended up on the bench. He sacrificed me for Messi and didn’t have the guts to tell me. He’s a fantastic coach, but he’s a coward. He’s not a man”.
His agent, the renown Mino Raiola (a man who does not mince his words) was quoted as saying earlier this year; “Zlatan was the king at Inter and after his move he was suddenly a nobody. Pep Guardiola let him down, without any explanation. Ask Guardiola what his mistake was. He won’t answer, because he can’t admit he made a mistake – that would insult his intelligence. If you pay €79m for a player and don’t let him play, that’s not just totally dumb but also financially damaging. Most of the agents wouldn’t criticise this policy because they are afraid big Barcelona will never ever buy a player of theirs. I have no respect for a club if the club has no respect for my players”.
Although the grudge is againt a coach now adopting his methods in Bavaria, Ibra will still want to make a point or two tomorrow. He returned there in the colours of Milan in 2012 and in the quarter-final with ourselves back in the spring of 2013 in what was ultimately a disappointing night. We performed heroically in that second-leg but just fell short on away goals. As I have said many times before, that performance on April 10th 2013 really announced PSG to the rest of Europe.
The 33-year-old has immense respect for FC Barcelona as a club, their players and their ethos. There is no disputing that and you just had to look to his dream-team which was revealed last week. Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Lionel Messi were all named in it. The respect is reciprocated as well which is lovely to see. Xavi stated upon Ibra’s transfer to Paris in the summer of 2012 just before a pre-season friendly between the two clubs: “He is a great signing. He performed fantastically for us and he is a top level player. He can bring a lot to them, and is the signing they needed to go on and win the French title. We won La Liga and got to the semi-finals of the Champions League, he scored important goals and we had a good understanding with him on the pitch and in the dressing room.”
Who can remember this cheeky little greeting from Ibra to his former teammate at the 2013 FIFA Ballon d’Or?
He is fundamental to us tomorrow if we are to get a result. Laurent Blanc rested him for the Lille game last week, specifically with this game in mind. He missed the 3-2 win back in September and there was no way he was going to miss this one too.
This could very well be his last ever visit to the Camp Nou as a player. That’s if he sticks to his word and hangs up his boots at the end of his contract in 2016.
If he does feel that there is some unfinished business, now is the time to address it!