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…
November 4, 2009
Now I’ve often aired my concerns at the state of the English game. I get very frustrated at ticket prices and ridiculous wages, but one major positive since the Premier League era came around is safer grounds.
Football violence, at least inside stadiums, has greatly diminished. Because it is now so rare, the media make a massive deal out of any trouble, which is why the recent West Ham-Millwall violence received thousands of column inches. Of course, the increase in ticket prices (my great hate) is partly responsible for this, as clubs have reached out to a very different, “family-friendly” (how it can be family friendly when it costs so much to take kids to grounds is beyond me!) clientele in order to force the hooligans out. This is not to say that hooliganism has vanished from the English game, as that would be very naive of me. ‘Firms’ still exist, and probably always will, but they exist outside of grounds.
However, Italy is a very different animal.
In the 1990s, Italian football was the benchmark for the rest of the world. All the world’s greatest players (and Ian Rush) aimed for Serie A, in much the same way they now aim for the Premier League or La Liga. However, despite the fact the Italian game was swimming in Lira, the clubs failed to invest in infrastructure and crowd trouble was a weekly occurence. It could certainly be argued that the Italian authorities did not do enough to combat these Ultra groups.
Eventually, ordinary fans stopped going to games, which were then played in half empty grounds. This apparent lack-of-interest led to billionaire owners pulling out of their clubs and the TV deals collapsed. As a result, Serie A became an inferior ‘product’ and lost its place at the top of the European game. It now lags behind both the Premier League and La Liga, while the Bundesliga is in its slip-stream, ready to pass. Even now, Italian authorities still do not seem to be taking enough action against Ultras, and riots inside the outdated Italian stadia are commonplace. Indeed, I fear for every Fulham fan travelling to Rome for Thursday’s Europa League game.
Politically, Italy is a frightening place. Silvio Berlusconi is perhaps the most corrupt man in the Western World, and Fascism bubbles very close to the surface in Italian culture. This is taken into football, and Lazio in particular have a scary bunch of fans.
But what is needed in Italian football? For a start, massive investment. Stadia needs to be brought up to the standard of the rest of the top leagues in Europe, and the Italian Police need to take more action in dealing with Ultra groups. That doesn’t mean continue beating them to a pulp, as we regularly witness on European nights, but by making arrests and working with clubs to issue bans.
It is also vital that FIFA and UEFA get involved in the process of rebuilding Serie A. However, their levels of hypocrisy know no bounds, and the threat of an Italian ban from European competition will never happen, no matter how many riots, or deaths, occur.
FIFA and UEFA demonstrate capitalism at its worst, clearly demonstrating money matters more than safety. Indeed, Platini is a Juventus man through-and-through, and the prospect of European football without his beloved Serie A sides is incomprehensible, even if they are falling apart.
Until he loses the election and UEFA act against the Italian clubs, we can only watch in horror as the ‘fans’ tear each other apart. And as a lover of the beautiful game, that will always bring a tear to my eye.