The strange story of Ibra and Pep
As Barcelona close in on the signing of Javier Mascherano from Liverpool, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s future at the club seems to becoming ever more complicated.
Coach Pep Guardiola’s decision to move for the combative Mascherano is understandable after Yaya Toure’s departure to Manchester City.
Added to the signings of David Villa, a proven goalscorer already familiar with half the squad from Spanish international duty, and the versatile Adriano Correia, who can cover Dani Alves at right back or play in midfield, they look like sensible choices.
But can Guardiola’s judgement be questioned is in his handling of the Ibrahimovic conundrum?
The hefty Swede was Guardiola’s choice to replace the prolific but problematic Samuel Eto’o a year ago and set Barca back serious cash in an eye-watering swap deal with Inter Milan.
Ibra responded by scoring 21 goals in all competitions, a tally not to be sniffed at, yet he clearly slipped to second choice at number nine during the title run in last May behind teenager Bojan Krkic.
Speculation has gone into overdrive over the summer, media suggesting Guardiola had lost faith in Ibra much as he had with Eto’o, and he has failed to give his full backing to the player when questioned.
Last week, he said it was best not to talk about Ibra for the benefit of all concerned, once again shying away from giving one of his highest paid players his blessing.
Ibrahimovic scored in the 3-1 Spanish Super Cup first leg defeat to Sevilla two weeks ago, but cut a dejected figure on the bench as they stormed back to retain the title with a 4-0 victory, the forward positions being taken up by hat-trick hero Lionel Messi, Bojan, and Pedro with Villa debuting as Bojan’s replacement.
Ibra’s an expensive super sub, has four years left on his contract, and has an agent who says he is not going anywhere.
AC Milan have registered their interest in the former Inter frontman, but it is unlikely to be a lucrative piece of business for the Catalans.
Surely some words of support from Guardiola would have smoothed the whole affair whether he stays or leaves?