August 30, 2010
Quite rare I delve into the world of Serie A or La Liga on this blog, but the news of one major transfer between the two leagues this week has me relishing the prospect of watching AC Milan this season. Of course, the player in question is none other than the enigmatic figure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. If you haven’t seen the news, he’s been allowed to leave on a season-long loan, with a transfer fee arranged for next summer of €24m. And just because I like videos, here’s one for you to enjoy.
He is the ultimate opinion divider, is “Ibra”. On his day the big Swede is utterly unplayable, scoring goals from anywhere, and at 6 foot 5 with hugely deceptive pace, he is a handful for any defender in the world. Couple that with his undoubted technical ability, it is easy to see why some rate him as the best centre forward in the game.
Unfortunately, he also has his days where I swear he’s actually a hybrid of Delroy Facey and Vinny Arkins in disguise. A very questionable temperament and a complete lack of work ethic don’t do him any favours, and it is these character flaws which have let him down in Spain. As a result, his €69m transfer from Inter Milan to Barcelona hasn’t quite worked out, despite scoring 21 goals for the Spanish champions last season.
There are a few facets of this story though that really interest me. The first is just how Barcelona can allow themselves to simply brush off a loss of €45m without a care in the world. This is the club who recently reported a post-tax yearly loss of €77.1m simply allowing the player to leave the club for next to nothing, only recouping part of the frankly ridiculous fee for him next summer. That is the same player who officially commanded the second largest transfer fee ever paid only 12 months ago. Granted, they will be relieving their wage bill of a reported £200,000 a week, but the signing of David Villa and Javier Mascherano hardly represents a club attempting to downsize. Indeed, the rumours are still there that they want to add Manchester City’s Robinho to their squad (who ironically is also interesting AC Milan) which is a serious increase in their wage bill.
The second is the fact that Ibrahimovic won nearly everything there is to win in Italy with Milan’s city rivals, yet like many ex Inter players before him, he now finds himself in the red and black of the Roseneri. I fully expect Ibrahimovic to deal with the abuse that comes his way, but again it is another test of his temperament, one which many others will expect him to fail.
I have read many opinions already on this matter, calling Ibrahimovic a “bigger flop than Shevchenko” but is that really accurate? I’d argue it’s wide of the mark, certainly. As a centre forward, your first job is to put the ball in the net. As already stated, he did that 21 times last season. Ah, you might say, surely these 21 goals came against the smaller clubs? Well, no. He scored both goals against Arsenal at the Emirates in the Champions League Quarter Final, and the winner against Real Madrid in the ‘Classico’ at the Camp Nou. Put that next to ‘Sheva’s’ nine goals in two seasons, and it’s clear to see who was a bigger disaster.
Thirdly, you have to wonder if Milan’s new coach Massimiliano Allegri knows exactly what he’s getting, and if he can motivate Ibrahimovic the way that Mancini and Jose Mourinho managed at Inter. Allegri was a strange appointment by Milan, another young manager following on from Leonardo and as a result, no real experience at a top club. Mancini was also a young manager, but he was also a top quality player, which I suspect will have helped him to manage Ibrahimovic. Of course, after Mancini came Mourinho, who I think could turn Emile Heskey into a winner, let alone ‘Ibra’.
Just how Allegri builds his side will also be paramount. Whilst Milan have an ageing squad, they also have a few egos, not least Ronaldhino. With the rumours of Robinho also arriving at Milan, and the certainty of Pato starting every week (note the transfer window is still open as I type this!) you have to wonder exactly what Allegri has in mind. If he makes Ibrahimovic his ‘main man’, I’d expect to see him flourish once again, but if he’s playing second fiddle to ANYBODY, he may struggle.
So the time has come then to nail my colours to the mast and answer the title of this post. I am absolutely in the flawed genius camp, and I really hope he is a massive success back at the San Siro. As good as Barcelona are, I found his signing to be a strange one as they clearly don’t play with a target man. David Villa, who they have since purchased, was more of a Barcelona-type player, as was Luis Fabiano or even Robin Van Persie, but something about Ibrahimovic didn’t quite seem to be a natural fit.
Indeed, he might have been better off at Real Madrid alongside Higuain and Ronaldo (imagine that!) but I expect to see him scoring blinding goals once again this season. However, if he fails back in Italy, we may see him gradually slip away from Europe’s elite clubs and end up as just another mercenary at an Aston Villa or similar.
I’m sure I won’t be alone in hoping against hope that’s not the case, and that Ibrahimovic finishes his career at a club worthy of his brilliance. Or that he flops massively in Milan and arrives at Celtic Park for nothing next summer. One can hope…
Part of the reason we all support our teams is the ride they take us on. Whether that ride is to league championships and European triumphs, promotions and play-off dramas, mid-table security, or relegation heartache, we go through an emotional grinder.
As I follow both Celtic and Notts County, I’ve simultaneously felt highs and lows, but the best football year of my life was 1997/98, where Celtic denied Rangers the 10 in a row by winning the championship on the final day and the mighty Magpies secured the Third Division title in March. What a year that was!
However, even in the days of the barren trophy cabinet at Celtic, and Notts fighting against relegation from the football league, I still have some sympathy for another group of fans. I’m imagining most of you think I’m talking about Newcastle, and their newly named sportsdirect.com@St James’ Park stadium. No, not this time. I’m talking about the farce that is Athletico Madrid.
It must be hard to follow Athletico. Your great city rivals are the most successful team in Europe, with 9 European Cups and 31 Spanish championships, and yet Athletico are a mess.
I would argue Athletico are quite possibly the most bizarre club on the face of the Earth. In 1987, they were acquired by Spanish politician Jesus Gil, a man who made his money from the building trade. Gil had been sent to jail in 1967 after one of his buildings collapsed, killing 58 people. It was alleged he was only released after a substantial payment to General Franco. Gil was a controversial figure, and he took some strange steps as the club’s owner. This included closing the club’s youth academy which featured the mercurial Raul, who would go on to become the top scorer in Real Madrid’s history, and even the appointment of Ron Atkinson as manager in 1988!
The shadow of General Franco also hovers over the club’s current leadership pair. Owner Gil Marin and club president Enrique Cerezo were both guilty of a fraudulent purchase of Athletico on the stock exchange in 1992. However, under Franco’s laws, the two escaped a prison sentence, and the farce of Athletico has continued ever since.
As a club, they have had some momentously talented players. Right now they have one of the best forward pairs in the world in Forlan and Aguero, and they are also the club that gave the world Fernando Torres. However, the businessmen at the club have itchy trigger fingers, not least because they are unable to co-exist for the benefit of Athletico.
The club have had a massive nine managers in the past 6 seasons, and most of these appointments have been a direct attempt by one power to anger the other. It is clear then we don’t know who the Super Power is, and I’d be surprised if anybody could answer who is actually in charge.
Indeed, the life expectancy of a snowman in Florida is probably greater than the average managerial appointment on the Red, White and Blue side of the city.
The most recent dismissal was Abel Ressino, who was sacked following Athletico’s Stamford Bridge massacre a couple of weeks ago. What was to follow was typical of the club. In a 24 hour period, nine coaches were announced as club manager, before eventually the role was given to Quique Flores.
Yet the story doesn’t finish there. Flores’ first training session was finished with a group of ultras from the extreme-right Frente Atlético watching, as the group had been allowed in to offer their “encouragement”. A terrifying prospect, I think you’ll agree.
However, with the club now sat in the relegation zone and out of the Champions League, the fans have finally had enough. A campaign is well and truly underway to rid the Vicente Calderon Stadium of the two most hated men in the club’s recent history, and it appears to be gathering some pace.
Perhaps when they’ve finally left, they might fancy buying Mike Ashley out of St James’ Park?