I’ve been patiently awaiting Barcelona’s counter to Real Madrid’s spending spree, wondering how the current best-team-in-the-world would “improve” themselves. I really wasn’t sure how they were going to do it, or if it could even really be done.
The Catalunyan’s had, arguably, one of the best ever season’s in European club football history in 2008-2009. After wrestling away Madrid’s two-year [albeit weak] hold on the La Liga title, they went on to secure the Copa del Rey and Champions League trophies in impressive fashion, thus completing the first ever Spanish treble.
Led by rookie manager and former midfield star Pep Guardiola, the blaugrana showed a swagger and work ethic that was missing during the end of Rijkaard/Ronaldinho era at the club. They were balanced and played total team football. They also had the world’s two best players at the Camp Nou last season, with Lionel Messi and Andrés Iniesta (if you’re partial to the Premier League, you may disagree… but trust me on this, they were better than even Ronaldo last term). They were deep enough to succeed even when long term injury laid up starting center back Rafael “I’m a dirtball” Márquez and Iniesta playing injured for a good portion of the season.
Their form was stunning all season. They accumulated a record points total of 50 in the first half of the La Liga season. Barça crushed my whites at home in the the second El Clasico of the season 6-2. And a comprehensive 2-0 win in the Champions League final cemented them as a superior team to Manchester United. As a Madrid fan it’s very hard to say this, but Barcelona were a near perfect team last season.
So the question became, how were they going to get any better this year?
There was no way that Barcelona were going to remain idle as their main rivals to the South were spending the equivalent of the Spanish national GDP in revamping their team. Their self-loathing fans wouldn’t stand for a lack of response. But who could they possibly land that would be considered an adequate answer to Madrid signing the last two FIFA World Players of the Year? And how could they fit anyone else into their star-studded yet balanced team?
The rumors, of course, swirled. My man crush Csc Fàbregas was again tapped up by his original club. But with Xavi and Iniesta already having the starting midfeild slots locked down, the move seemed unlikely. Chairman Joan Laporta then tried to hijack the David Villa sale after Madrid failed in their bid, but again Valencia stood firm in their stance that the striker was not for sale. They were also reportedly in for Ribery, but of course declared they couldn’t pry the Frenchman from Bayern either.
Now don’t forget the man I’ve written about more than anyone else this summer, Samuel Eo’o. With Barcelona clearly shopping the Cameroon striker for the last year, they made it clear they wanted to improve their already deadly Strikeforce. Pep apparently felt that despite the impressive goal tally Eto’o provided each season for them, Barça would be better off without him. He has long been rumored to have a large ego, and has had public clashes with the club in the past. With moves to Man City, Man United and Chelsea apparently nixed, it was looking increasingly difficult for Barça to unload him.
And then Jose Mourinho decided to get involved. Having always been willing to work with head-case strikers (ex: Didier dogba), the special one decided he would be willing to swap his head case for Guardiola’s. Eto’o was shipped off to Inter Milan, in addition to £40 million and a one year loan of Alexhander Hleb, in exchange for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Almost a straight up trade: one crazy for another.
And you know, it just might make sense.
Sure, you’re giving up the 20-30 goals per season that Eto’o gives you. But Samuel is of the Michael Owen mold — a right time, right place, poaching type of player — and that’s what him makes him so valuable. However, Eto’o isn’t much of a creator, and lacks the creative flair that the Spanish fans desire.
Ibrahimovic gives you a similar goal output to Eto’o, but with loads more style. Check out this YouTube video (but please ignore the awful euro techno). Zlatan reminds me of Thierry Henry during his prime, only more cocky. He definitely is the only other player who poses run of play skills comparable to Ronaldo’s. His creativity will match up very nicely with Messi, Xavi and Iniesta and Henry. The blaugrana fans will be properly entertained.
While imbrahimovic’s ego will certainly be an issue as well, I think Barcelona were right to take the risk. He’s definitely worth what they spent on him: if you consider Eto’o to be worth £20 million, then he’s about equal to Kaká in terms of value. He appeases the fans’ desire for a big signing to “rival” Madrid’s. And they manage to pawn off Eto’o onto Mourinho. Brilliant. And though I would like for this move to blow up in their face, I think this is good business and shouldn’t hurt their already stellar team.
And if nothing else, think of the amazing attacking array of players trotting out during next year’s Clasico matches: Messi, Kaká, Henry, Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic, Benzema, Iniesta, Robben. That thought alone makes this an interesting move by barcelona.
And though I didn’t think that they could make a signing to rival Madrid’s summer spending spree, this one move may have at least pulled them even… and for way less money. Touché Barça… touché.