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Saturday, 20 August 2011

Zlatan Ibrahimovic / Samuel Eto'o + £45 million

The big one. The confusing one!
In the summer of 2009 Zlatan Ibrahimovic moved from Serie A Champions Internazionale of Milan to FC Barcelona. The fee, including a £20 million valuation of Cameroonian striker Samuel Eto’o was around £70 million. It was all done in Euros (They do that over there) but the exchange rate was 1=1.08 or something like that, so a rough figure in Pounds Stirling will suffice here.

Samuel Eto’o had been at Barca for five seasons, playing 200 goals in all competitions and scoring 130 goals. Not bad, not bad at all you might think. Especially when considered next to Ibra’s goals over the same period of 2004-9 – he scored 92 goals in 207 games for Juventus and Inter, still a very respectable ratio for the more defensively minded Italian League. But £45 million more for a guy with a poorer goals per game history, who had not played in that league before? Wow.

However, not everything in football happens on the pitch. Samuel Eto’o, one of the most famous African players of all time – 3 times African footballer of the year at this point (His fourth award came in 2010 whilst at Inter) had not always had a smooth ride in Spain. Sadly, Spainish football appears to still be blighted by the social disease of racism. Eto’o had been the target of monkey chants, most notably on two separate occasions at Zaragoza. He had to be persuaded to remain on the pitch by his team-mates, and stopped bringing his family to matches.

Eto’o had also had problems of his own making. He had been fined in 2005 for abusive chants about Real Madrid fans, and had once refused to come on as a substitute. His defence was that he was coming back form a long injury lay-off and wasn’t given enough time to warm up properly. Team mate Ronaldinho criticised him saying the he was putting himself before the team. Ronaldinho and Eto’o both garnered reputations as disruptive dressing-room influences. So, perhaps this was the reason to swap Eto’o plus a bundle of cash (More than the British transfer record at the time) for Ibrahimovic. Eto’o was a toxic dressing-room influence?

Sorry – did someone say toxic dressing room influence?? Step forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic. This is that man whose swift exit from Ajax was precipitated by the allegedly deliberate injury of club team mate Rafael Van der Vaart whilst on international duty for Sweden against The Netherlands. The same man who threatened legal action unless he was sold by the scandal-hit Juventus. The same man who would go on to spend 5 months of his solitary year with the Catalan club not speaking to coach Pep Guardiola. Barcelona might have thought that they were getting rid of a bad apple, albeit a very talented apple, but they were getting one straight back too.

In his first season at Samuel Eto’o scored 16 goals including 12 in the league, and Inter recorded a historic treble of domestic league and cup, and Champions League wins. On their way to the final in Madrid they beat Barcelona in the semi-finals 3-2 on aggregate. Neither Ibrahimovic nor Eto’o scored in either game.

Ibrahimovic made up in part for missing out on Champions League glory by helping Barcelona to a points record La Liga win – continuing his remarkable run which now stands (With the addition of another Serie A title on loan at Milan last season) at 8 successive league wins in three different countries with 5 separate clubs.

Zlatan spent only one full season at Camp Nou before being loaned out to Milan, with a view to a £24 million permanent move. That’s right, £24 million. It doesn’t sound like good business to anyone, but once you factor in Ibrahimovic’s wages at £15 million a year, and also consider the striker-less system currently employed by Pep Guardiola in his sweep-all-aside Barca team, it begins to make sense. Still not much sense though.

Ibrahimovic scored 21 goals in his full season at Barcelona, including 16 in the league, before moving to Milan.