Friday 28 April 2017

Shots fired! Zlatan Ibrahimović has not so subtle dig at Pep Guardiola

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has had few problems adapting to the Premier League
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has had few problems adapting to the Premier League

Tom Rooney

Before he joined Manchester United, Zlatan Ibrahimović’s agent commented that the prospect of hindering the progress of Pep Guardiola across town at the Etihad Stadium would likely compel the Swede to finally grace the Premier League.

Of course, the agent in question is Mino Raiola, who, as Jurgen Klopp recently found out, has no compunction with excoriating managers if they've crossed swords with his clients.

If indeed Ibrahimović did come to Manchester to exact vengeance on Guardiola, while the he still has the chance, his first opportunity to do so ended in failure.

Despite scoring for United in the derby at Old Trafford on Saturday - his third league goal in four games - the Catalan coach still guided City to a thoroughly deserved 2-1 victory.

Incidentally, 'Ibra' has now scored in derbies in England, Holland, Spain, France, Sweden and Italy

Stomaching the defeat will have been all the more vexing for the striker as he had a gilt-edged opportunity to level the game on the stroke of half time, but his limp effort was cleared off the line by John Stones.

 Furthermore, he was found to be in an offside position as Marcus Rashford’s drive deflected off him and past Claudio Bravo.

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It’s no secret that Ibrahimović and Guardiola share an acrimonious history from their brief time together at Barcelona.

The former arrived at the Nou Camp in the summer of 2009 from Inter Milan in a deal that included Samuel Eto’o going the other way as well as Barcelona forking over a fee in excess of €60m.

It was at the San Siro that the former PSG man sparked up a bone fide bromance with Jose Mourinho, who also has a slightly chequered past with Mr Guardiola.

The relationship with Guardiola was never particularly affectionate but it quickly turned downright non-existent.

In his book, ‘I am Zlatan,’ Ibrahimović described the coach as a ‘spineless coward’.

The rub of their feud came down to the fact that Lionel Messi insisted on being given a central role -occupied at the time by Ibrahimović- in the Barca side or he simply wouldn’t play. It is something Guardiola has never denied and was chronicled in Guillem Balagué’s biography of him.

Guardiola acquiesced and Ibrahimović would become more and more peripheral, despite netting 16 goals in 29 appearances. He was also unsettled by the exacting levels of discipline the Barcelona players were expected to adhere to.

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Eventually, he claims, Guardiola subjected him to silent treatment and, within a season, he joined AC Milan on loan.

Indeed, the former Bayern boss addressed the issue prior to the crosstown showdown and, in the most polite manner possible, all but dismissed the 34-year-old's version of events as fictional.

 “Ibrahimović used his book to explain what he believes, he had some things to say. Always I was clear. Whatever I said to him I spoke face to face. I never used the media to explain what I wanted from him on the pitch.”

Well, it would appear as though said remarks did not fall on deaf ears. With a far greater stealth, Ibrahimović has registered a riposte of sorts.

Speaking to MUTV, he was asked to wax lyrical about all things Mourinho, and exactly what attributes have enabled him to achieve so much.

“He is direct with everyone. He is not a coach that goes behind your back. If you’re not good enough, he will tell you that you are not good enough.

“And I prefer it like that, instead of having somebody who does not say anything to you and your situation is so and so but you think it is good because you don’t hear anything,” he said.

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His chief gripe with Guardiola was a lack of, and eventually, complete absence of communication. Ibrahimović found the 45-year-old duplicitous, a transgression he is yet to forgive.

Moreover, he claimed that the bond shared with Mourinho is predicated on a common competitive drive, that desire to attain victory regardless of the cost.

“I know what he goes for - he’s a winner.  I see myself as a winner also. I like to win, I do everything to win - he thinks the same thing. 

“And he won, and I won. We won when we were young, we will win when we are a little bit older, and not old, just a little bit older,” he quipped.

“He does what he needs to do to win and he’ll make sure he wins. Just like me as a player because I don’t accept I lose, but when I lose I learn. But I will not lose, I will win.”

United can return to winning ways when they face Feyenoord in the Europa League on Thursday, before a league meeting with Watford in Sunday’s early kick-off.

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