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Have Milan made a big mistake by signing Ibrahimovic?

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Phil Minshull | 22:10 UK time, Monday, 6 September 2010

The track record of Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola suggests that he rarely gets things wrong but it became apparent very quickly that the signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic just over a year ago was wrong, wrong and wrong.

It was economically wrong immediately, with Barcelona paying the best part of 70m euros (£58.5m in today's money) to Inter Milan in a deal which included sending the hugely productive but sometimes disruptive Samuel Eto'o the other way at what seemed like a knockdown price.

It quickly became wrong in playing terms when Ibrahimovic, despite scoring seven goals in his first seven league games for Barca and briefly becoming La Liga's top scorer, rapidly lost form just a few months into the season, a situation admittedly not helped by several niggling but hardly serious injuries.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic poses with his AC Milan jersey

Ibrahimovic will be hoping to make an impact in Italy

Arguably, he even cost Barcelona last season's Champions League, floundering around ineffectively for an hour in both legs of their semi-final against Inter before being ignominiously hauled off by his apparent nemesis Guardiola.

As the Wall Street Journal said, after Barcelona cut their losses and negotiated a loan-and-then-buy deal with the Nerazzurri's rivals Milan before the transfer window shut: "It's hard to overstate just how spectacularly the deal backfired."

The Spanish sports daily Marca chipped in on the day he moved back across the Med, calling Ibrahimovic's year at the club "ruinously uneconomic".

Ibrahimovic certainly had no qualms about leaving Barca, especially as he will still be pocketing his annual wages of around 15m euros (£12.5m) after tax, just a year after he described the move to the Spanish champions as a "dream move".

By the time he packed his bags and headed to the airport just over a week ago, he was accusing Guardiola of not having spoken to him for six months.

"I don't want to waste any more time with this coach. If I came in the room, he'd leave. I don't know if he was afraid of me but Guardiola's philosophy has ruined my dreams," said Ibrahimovic, with a nice touch of symmetry to the comments he made on his arrival.

However, the big question for me, now that he is back in Italy, which really is his second home after Sweden and despite a successful spell earlier in his career at Ajax, is whether he will return to being the success he was at Inter, or is what happened at Barcelona destined to be repeated.

Is Ibrahimovic doomed to being an albatross, pun intended considering that he's 6ft 5in (1.95cm) tall, on the roster of another major European football club and will the signing of Ibrahimovic by Milan club president Silvio Berlusconi be on a par with the ancient mariner shooting the aforesaid big bird with his crossbow?

I personally think that Milan have made a huge, huge mistake.
If you read my blog last week, written in the wake of not only Ibrahimovic's arrival in Milan but also their impressive opening weekend 4-0 win over Lecce, I believe that the Rossoneri still have a fantastic chance to end Inter's streak as Calcio winners that stretches back to 2006.

They could also have a good tilt at the being the kings of Europe again, having won the European Cup and Champions League seven times, the most recent occasion being in 2007.

Alexandre Pato has steadily grown into a world class striker but I can't see it helping dressing room harmony for the popular Brazilian to be pushed aside for Ibrahimovic. And the reaction of Milan's fans to the signing of an Inter icon has still to be gauged, although Ibrahimovic has pointedly declared: "I have nothing to say about, or to, Inter."

We will, no doubt, get an idea of how the Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri sees the role of Ibrahimovic when they play at newly-promoted Cesena on Saturday.

The hypothetical situation of what should happen if things don't go well for Ibrahimovic also looms. If, for whatever reason, he drops down the pecking order, as he did at Barca behind Pedro and Bojan, will he and his agent Mino Raiola start pouting and posturing?
Raiola fired one last, rather laughable, parting shot at Barca over the weekend, accusing Guardiola of nudging Ibrahimovic towards "becoming a zombie".

So just why did Berlusconi buy Ibrahimovic and also make the deadline-day deal for Robinho last week?

Not for football reasons, it seems, and certainly he doesn't listen too often to Allegri on these matters.

"Allegri is an outstanding teacher but I'm the professor here," said Berlusconi not long after his minion had arrived in June, making it clear who called the shots on the playing field as well as in the board room.

As pointed out in the Wall Street Journal but also in many other publications, Berlusconi turned up on the first day of training only to be barracked by Milan fans and appears to have decided to play to the gallery with some spectacular signings.

Robinho is hoping for happier times at AC Milan

Robinho is keen to forget his eventful time at Manchester City

Of course, I haven't forgotten Robinho. If ever there was a hurriedly concocted signing that will destabilise a side, then here's one.

On the front cover of World Soccer in October 2008 was the headline: "The deal that will change football for ever." Mark Hughes might ruefully reflect almost two years later that the only thing that changed was his job.

By contrast, Robinho went as he came, whinging about his previous club, his contract, the coaches and rather predictably, since it was Manchester this time rather than Madrid, the weather.

Just like with Ibrahimovic, it's hard to see how Milan will benefit from his signing and also whether he can play alongside Ronaldinho at club level.

It makes me wonder if Berlusconi has sacrificed his team's chances of getting one or two titles for a bit of pride and a poorly thought-out minor public relations coup.

Changing the subject, I'm going to attend to a bit of house keeping.

Two weeks ago, I wrote briefly about Real Madrid's new signing Mesut Ozil, who looked good when he came on for the final 30 minutes during their 0-0 draw at Mallorca despite his short time in the Spanish capital.

He is also a Muslim playing during Ramadan and there were a lot of comments on this matter.

He has since elaborated on what he has been doing during the Muslim holy month, which ends this coming Thursday, saying that he has not been fasting during this period as "soccer players need to eat a lot and drink a lot".

Comments on this blog in the space below. Other questions on European football to: I don't need your full address but please put the town/city and country where you come from.

Since this is a longer blog than usual, I haven't answered any questions this time around but normal service will be resumed next week.


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