Is this the ‘Real’ Barcelona?

Will Zlatan upset Barcas apple cart?

Will Zlatan upset Barca's apple cart?

Does anyone else think that Barcelona have negotiated a really poor deal for Zlatan Ibrahimovic? Zlatan is a player that has always and will always divide opinion – some say he’s the best in the world, some say he’s terribly ineffectual. I count myself among the latter camp, however you can’t argue with his domestic scoring record, and his technical ability is second to very few. However, I don’t think anyone would really have thought he was worth Samuel Eto’o plus Alexander Hleb for a season plus about £40m. It’s obscene.

However, even if you did value Ibrahimovic that highly, there is also the question of just why Barca want to sign him in the first place. One can argue that you can never have too many quality players, but that may not be the case. Manchester City have too many strikers and the first Galacticos proved that too many superstars will ruin any team, with Madrid maybe about to re-prove that point this time around. Barca were the best team on the planet last season, so what does Ibrahimovic add to the equation?

Let’s start at the beginning. Barcelona finished last season winning an epic treble, taking the Spanish Primera Liga, the Champions League and the Spanish Cup almost at a canter. They played stunning football, keeping the ball effortlessly and making several world class teams look like a bunch of hungover blokes playing Sunday league. The entire footballing world was drooling all over them, and suddenly they were everyone’s second team.

With a relatively young squad full of world class players, they looked set to add a little strength in depth, add to the defence and look to successfully defend their titles next season, and no one would have bet against them. They played with such assurance, they were such a perfectly balanced and blended unit that even though their competition would surely strengthen, they would have to do very well to reach Barca’s level.

However, then along came Florentino Perez, returning as the president of Real Madrid and bringing with him a positive storm of publicity and cash that lured Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo to the Bernabau, along with numerous other big name signings. Suddenly, all anyone could talk about was Real Madrid, if there were other teams in Spain, they didn’t matter, because Madrid had Kaka and Ronaldo in the same team.

This was quite clearly Perez’s plan. The rivalry between Barca and Real is immense, and Perez would have found it very difficult watching Barca conquer the world. So he stormed back into football, determined to re-start the galactico programme with a view to toppling Barca next season. It was a plan that I thought was slightly flawed – yes, it will bring them publicity, but I firmly believe that their team will not work. I don’t think a team of galacticos will ever be enormously successful.

So I expected Barca to just sit back, enjoy their summer holidays and let Madrid prance around revealing their obscenely expensive wares to the world, safe in the knowledge that they would be able to do their talking on the pitch. However, then Eto’o, as he has a habit of doing, upset the apple cart. It emerged that Barca and Eto’o looked destined to finally part ways, and so suddenly, Barca needed to replace him. Because their attacking entire system revolves around having Xavi and Iniesta feeding a front three of Messi, Henry and Eto’o. It was unplayable.

So Guardiola, dragging himself of his deckchair, knew that he needed to replace Eto’o. However, as both one of the pre-eminent out and out goalscorers in world football and a very big name, Eto’o was going to take some replacing. Especially when their biggest rivals were busy buying up all the big names they could get their hands on. Clearly Pep was getting a bit pissed off that his side’s achievements had been so quickly forgotten, and decided to make a statement of his own.

He first went after David Villa from Valencia, and that would have been perfect. The Spaniard is of a very similar mould to Eto’o and would have slotted into the side seamlessly while also providing the wow factor that Barca wanted. However, Valencia wouldn’t budge on their price and so that move broke down. But who to turn to next? Rafa Benitez claimed that a number of bids for Torres were rejected, so I think they went there next, but Liverpool made it clear he was going nowhere.

But who to turn to next? There aren’t that many truly top class strikers in the game at the moment. Many former greats have recently hung up their boots and a new generation are making their way towards the top, players like Benzema (who had signed for Madrid) and Keirrison who Barcelona did sign. However, he isn’t ready to lead their line yet, and neither is he a superstar. So they turned to the only other possible option that was really left for them.

However, it’s very much a case of making do. Because Zlatan is a very different player to Eto’o. He;s not an out and out poacher and doesn’t have the blistering pace and pure sneakery of the Cameroonian. He’s a big, gangly targetman with an exquisite touch who takes an awesome free-kick. But Barca don’t really need that, it’s not their style. They don’t pump the ball towards a targetman, and though it may give them another option, I think Xavi and Iniesta will choose the slide-rule pass everytime.

Indeed, I think that swapping Eto’o for Ibrahimovic makes Barca undoubtedly weaker. It upsets the balance of the side, and will result in a slight change of system. But their system last season worked flawlessly, and as the old adage goes, you should never change a winning formula. Even if you feel that Ibrahimovic is a better player than Eto’o (which I don’t) I think you have to admit that he weakens Barca, because he disrupts the team as a whole.

And that is the key to Barcelona. They played last season as one. Epitomised by Iniesta and Xavi who seem to share one brain, the team was so fluid and full of understanding that they were at times simply unplayable. It is what sets them apart from Madrid who will always be less a team and more a group of individuals wearing the same shirt. Ibrahimovic though, is an individual. He will not fit the team mentality as well as Eto’o did, and thus he weakens the whole.

Then there is the price. Zlatan is a good player certainly. Some will argue he is a great player. Either way, £40m seems a fair price for him in today’s ridiculous market. However, Barca have agreed to pay that sum, as well as giving them Eto’o who is worth almost that much again (his value lower only because of his age). And they’ve agreed to loan Alexander Hleb to the Inter for a season too! It’s downright madness, and it will hurt Barcelona badly I fear.

I know exactly why they’ve done it. They got sick of being overshadowed by Real Madrid and so have gone out to try and top them by buying Ibrahimovic, and by making the transfer as spectacular as possible. It’s a solid plan, and will certainly get them attention. But I really think that in this plea for attention they have fatally flawed their own side. Barca should never be about buying individuals for ridiculous prices, and they have no need of a player like Ibrahimovic.

So while Perez’s plan, to forge a new team of galacticos with which to topple Barcelona from their mighty pedastal was, in my opinion, fatally flawed in it’s assumption that great players make great teams, I think that Perez has, albeit inadvertently, sabotaged Barcelona successfully. In drawing the limelight away from the Champions he catalysed a knee-jerk major signing from the Catalan club that will ultimately weaken their team and perhaps even prevent them from retaining any of their titles this coming season.

Of course, Zlatan could be a massive success and prove me wrong – it’s happened before. However, I must admit that I really fear for Barcelona, and for the beautiful style of football to which they treated the world last year. I hope that they can maintain it still, but I feel that like all great things it was a fleeting wonder that has eventually brought about it’s own ruin. Whether that is the case or not, only time will tell.

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