After a season bordering on perfection, a refreshing thirst for change is in the air around the Camp Nou. It is good to see that Txiki Begiristain and the clubs board have learned from the mistakes made in the latter parts of the Rijkaard era. Instead of holding on to some of the more fragile elements that drove the club to the treble this past year, the right moves have so far been made this summer in anticipation of the upcoming season.
Eric Abidal, although solid, never quite added the amount of attacking flair on the left flank that the club had hoped for when they bought him from Lyon. He slotted in well and gave his all while in a Barca shirt. Yet his failure to add speed to the flank attack, as well as his inability to take players on in one on one situations led the club to seek a replacement.
Maxwell, a man who is no stranger to injuries, is one of the most complete left backs in the world when healthy. After successes in the Netherlands and in Italy, Maxwell is ready to put his injury problems behind in order to settle himself into an automatic first team role to push towards finally winning that first Brazilian cap that has eluded him so far in his career. In addition, his added ability to play as a winger will give Guardiola new options when he is forced to rotate the squad this upcoming season. A great signing for the club.
However, the real act of genius is the sale of Samuel Eto’o. No one can, and should question his commitment to the cause while at the club. 130 goals in 200 games for Barcelona speaks for itself. He has been one of, if not the most consistent top level striker in the world over the past 5 seasons. So why ship him off to Italy, as well as a giant bag of cash to bring in the talented, yet egocentric question mark that is Zlatan Ibrahimovic?
For one thing, the fault of the club to not adequately regenerate themselves after their first Champions League title of the decade in 2006, helped to show the danger of staying complacement. Teams come and go in cycles, and Frank Rijkaard failed to recognize this, which ultimately led to his demise as Barcelona manager. Lessons seem to have been learned, and a squad regeneration has been put into effect this go around.
With the arrival of Ibrahimovic, it would appear that Barcelona have chosen to add another wrinkle to their attack, as opposed to finding a direct replacement for Eto’o. The goals of Eto’o will be missed, but if anyone can find more goalscoring within their squad, it has to be Barcelona. This past year at Inter was the first season in Ibrahimovic’s career that he has managed to break the 25 goal mark in all competitions. But the man from Sweden offers so much more than just goals. Zlatan’s ability to hold up the ball, take defenders on and to use skill and little tricks to get the ball to teammates will add a whole new dimension to the product on the field at the Camp Nou. It’s this new unknown factor that Barcelona are capable of showing this season that what will strike fear all across Spain and the rest of Europe. Chelsea showed how to beat last years Barcelona over 179 minutes, but this season that game plan will be much tougher to pull off with a player like Ibrahimovic in the side.
Zlatan’s intergration into the squad is far from a sure thing. There is always the chance he will unsettle the balance of the side. His antics off the field, as well as his inflated opinion of himself on it, hold the potential to cause a major disturbance within a seemingly very happy club. But this is a gamble worth taking. If all goes well, a front line of Ibrahimovic, Messi and Henry is one step further into total football transcendence.