Inter Milan’s fairly smooth passage through to the last eight of the Champions League after a lacklustre fight back by Chelsea has definitively proved what everyone knows – Inter are a much better side for selling the big Swede in the summer.
Acquiring Samuel Eto’o plus some 50 odd million on top of that looked, at best back then, a crazy piece of business on Barcelona’s part, and it still does today. Ibrahimovich has and always be a player who polarises opinion, technically superb, with a heavily built frame and a knack for scoring a shed load of goals it’s a wonder why his ability is still openly questioned – but Samuel Eto’o he is not. He can be seen as selfish, lazy and the fact that he has yet to score in the Champions League knockout stages despite playing in the tournament is a huge blot on his record, despite getting numerous chances to rectify this by representing Ajax, Juventus, Inter and now Barca in the tournament. He was even left out of the second leg win over German side Stuttgart at the Camp Nou in favour of recently frozen out striker Thierry Henry with manager Pep Guardiola demanding more from his marquee signing.
Inter during Ibrahimovich’s time at the club were a domestic machine, rattling off three straight titles and his goals tally for the club improved year on year until he scored 25 goals last year in a notoriously stingy league, a record not to be sniffed at. But they were a team that mirrored Ibrahimovich’s faults – they were slow on the break, ponderous in big games and they catered far too much to their star player to the extent that it ensured that when he was having an off day, so did everyone else.
Not only was Samuel Eto’o’s arrival welcome, bringing some much needed pace and dynamism to a frontline that has been anything but under Mancini and even in Mourinho’s first year, but the huge fee the Swede commanded has allowed for an extensive restructuring of the playing squad, much to the benefit of the club as a whole.
Last year’s gruesome twosome at Genoa, Diego Millito and Thiago Motta arrived for a combined fee of around £20m after a hugely successful year, Wesley Sneijder followed for a fee in the region of £15m,Lucio came in to bolster the backline from Bayern Munich, and the self-professed ‘Special One’ still had enough left in the kitty to be able to dip into the piggy bank for McDonald Mariga and Goran Pandev in the January sales, as a sign of not only their new found squad strength, but their increased spending power to the tune of nearly £20m
You look at Inter’s squad now and they are multi faceted for the first time in a long while. They have more match winner’s and creative players in their midst now than they ever did under Mancini. Ibrahimovich’s departure could be the best thing to happen to the L’Nerazurri in quite some time. Mourinho has been able to create a squad in his image that’s packed full of verve, power and confidence just like the man himself and they could be a serious threat to Barcelona’s crown come May.
It has to be said that Ibrahimovich has still done reasonably well at Barca, as fifteen goals in thirty games will attest to, coupled with the fact he got the winner in El Classico earlier this term instantly marking him out as a fan favourite for years to come, but there is the feeling that his languid style slows down Barca’s play and although undoubtedly a creative spark, the extra burden placed on Messi to put the ball in the back of the net has increased since Eto’o’s departure.
Limp exits at the hands of Man Utd and Liverpool in successive seasons gave credence to the feeling that Serie A was an ailing league, as will Juventus’s capitulation at the hands of Fulham too, and although their league form has taken a dip for the worst of late, this Inter side does look a much more well rounded outfit these days since they shed the considerable talents of Ibrahimovich.
They still have some way yet to go before they achieve anything of substance but the signs are promising for a team still gelling with one another – perhaps Mourinho will achieve what was much sought after during his Chelsea days, a Champions League winner’s medal to go along with the one he collected at Porto. Their favourable draw to CSKA Moscow in the last eight is a boost for a club finally beginning to find its feet in Europe after years of underachievement. Ibrahimovich’s departure was a blessing in disguise.
Written by James McManus