Leaving Barcelona: A (Schizophrenic) Love Story
Reporting from Camp Nou (although belatedly)
As Ronaldinho took to the field, the last player to do so for either team, 96,315 people cheered and applauded. A chant of ‘Ronny, Ronny, Ronny’ started around the stadium. People smiled as he lined up with the Barcelona team for the photo just before the Joan Gamper trophy kicked off. Before the match Ronny had bowed to every corner of the stadium and did a few tricks with the ball before rattling the crossbar with a piledriver of a shot in the final shooting practice. The day was a ‘fan day’ but it turned into Ronaldinho’s swan song, in a much publicised letter Ronaldinho paid tribute to the fans he was leaving behind one last time.
Ronaldinho had left two seasons previous, after an unsuccessful season. He moved to AC Milan and immediately professed his love for his previous club but his desire to win in Italy. In reality he was no longer needed at Barca as they got rid of Frank Rijkaard and promoted the Catalan Pep Guardiola as new manager. Guardiola was and is a legend for the club, he played 250+ games before journeying around some other European teams. He had managed Barcelona B for a year and now was ready for the main job. We all know by now what became of him, he was unbelievably successful winning the treble in his first year. A year where Barca had ‘lost’ Deco and Ronaldinho to european rivals, they won everything in sight and did so playing attractive attacking football with Leo Messi being touted as the best player in the world. Xavi and Iniesta became cruxes that the team played around and Ronaldinho was a distant flickering memory. Until that was, his return.
The match started and Ronaldinho promptly faded, he barely influenced the game. It was a sight many Barca fans were used to in his final season but even as they parted they parted on good terms, parting for them was such sweet sorrow as they remembered his unbelievable brace against the arch-enemy Madrid. Ronaldinho played the majority of the match before being summoned for a farewell substitution he applauded the stadium and left the field. Barca won the match in the end on penalties. As they lifted the friendly trophy ‘Ronny’ helped Carles Puyol, “Mr Barca”, carry it around the field. The press were deferential in their post-match comments as they said ‘Barca loves you’ to which Ronaldinho replied “& I love Barca”. They talked for 5 minutes with permanent smiles on their faces, the Studio crew flew through what little touches he had in the match before cutting to another interview. This time with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic had arrived last season in a flurry of Hype, the Swedish striker joining for Jose Mourinho’s Inter with the lacklustre Samuel Eto’o going the other way, with 30m+ in cash. It was an astonishing transfer and was the biggest transfer of the summer. Zlatan was never fully welcomed, some worried he wouldn’t fit into Barca’s tactics, others argued he was the final piece of the puzzle and that he would give Barca the plan B they required. Ibrahimovic had a good season for Barca in statistical terms he finished with 22 goals in 42 games a Ratio that exceeded Ronaldinho’s first year and his overall totals. However, statistics just didn’t tell the full story, it was a warm night in Barcelona as the team beseiged the 10 man Inter in search of an elusive goal that showed how all Catalans fealt about ‘Ibra’ as Barca were battering the door down and with no need to defend, Guardiola made a substitution Bojan was summoned from the bench and was to replace the swede. Pep had taken off a striker as Barca searched for a goal, surely it was madness. In reality it was a change that was made too late. Ibrahimovic was terrible, again, he never was the Plan B Barca needed and as Barca were eventually eliminated it seemed to spell the end for Ibrahimovic.
As the interview aired on Catalan TV after the game, Ibrahimovic was barracked. Are you moving to AC? When? He responded in kind, hostile and combative Ibrahimovic didn’t give any definitive answers but showed his Irritation at Guardiola, i’m paraphrasing here but it went along the lines. ‘He [pep] doesn’t speak to me, when I walk into a room he leaves,maybe he is scared of me?’. The press continued to harangue him before he left.
A few days later he would move to AC Milan on Loan, the very same club that Ronaldinho had left to two years previous. The parallels with Ronaldinho’s move are evident. Both were big ticket items, showy forwards with all the skill in the world but not the mental resilience to do it week in week out in the mould of Leo Messi or David Villa. As they have both moved on (at 28 I might add) to Milan their values had dropped and they were ushered out the door at Camp Nou, the one difference is that with ‘Ibra’ it was not with a warm goodbye. I don’t expect that should AC return in a few years with Ibrahimovic leading the line he will get the same adulation that Ronaldinho did. But why?
P.S. The veteran striker whom Ibrahimovic will take playing time from, Pippo Inzaghi, played in the Gamper trophy too. He also scored, one of the best goals I have ever seen, you probably haven’t seen it but you should. Watch it here. From Seedorf (A legend) to Inzaghi (A legend) it was a pleasure to be there to witness it