Zlatan Ibrahimovic gets the chance to put his money where his not inconsiderable and over-used mouth is tonight when he lines out against his former club Barcelona in the Champions League quarter final.
Guardiola signed Ibrahimovic for €65 million (and they got rid of Samuel Eto’o in the process) from Inter in 2009 but within two years joined AC Milan for €24 million after a loan period there. Pep and Zlatan’s relationship was doomed from the get-go as the Swedish international has, to use that well-worn phrase, “his own ideas about the game”.
Never shy of believing that everyone is entitled to his opinion, Ibrahimovic was none too complimentary in his autobiography, I Zlatan, published last year when he slated Barca boss Pep Guardiola for having ‘no balls’ and being afraid of Jose Mourinho.
The AC Milan striker also accused Barca’s Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi “obeying without protest”. “They were like schoolboys. I am not like that. I couldn’t be myself,” he said.
The self-styled ‘Ferrari’ who once told the Barca coach that he was being driven ‘like a Fiat’ also seemed aggrieved that Messi “wanted to play centre-forward and got his way.”
Now, the fact that Messi has gone onto to beat the club’s scoring record with 234 goals and earlier this month became the first player to score five goals in a Champions League match, might have cut some ice with most players. And while Ibrahimovic is not most players, in the interests of balance, the 6′ 5″ striker has proved a bargain for Milan scoring 23 league goals in 22 appearances and five goals in four Champions League matches so far.
AC Milan last reached this stage of the competition in the 2006/07 season, where they went on to win it. The seven-time winners can take heart from the fact they have never lost a home quarter-final tie in the European Cup. That’s an impressive pedigree but Barcelona have dominated the competition during Milan’s lean years. Champions four times, they’re chasing a fifth successive semi-final appearance which would equal the record set by their arch-rivals Real Madrid from 1956 to 1960.
So with little love lost between Guardiola and Ibrahimovic, let’s see how long it takes for this sideshow to take centre-stage tonight.