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Crossfire Debate: Ibrahimovic to Juventus

zlatan-ibrhimovic-sweden-blackandwhite

A funny thing happened on Twitter today. John and Aaron agreed on something, and Adam vociferously voiced his opposition to it. Wait, that’s not incredibly atypical, is it?


Aaron: John and I agree on everything. Including what a stupid sport baseball is. But it was a bit surprising we agreed on Ibrahimovic.

John: If you ever speak badly about baseball again Giambattista, I will destroy your soul.

Aaron: But Ibrahimovic is certainly a controversial topic. Even if it were financially possible, would you want him back? Why?

John: Well, there are two very different questions that arise from this. Would I *want* him back? Not really. But would I *take* him back, from a pure business/tactical sense? I think I’d be a fool to say no, so with that, I’d say yes. If Zlatan returned to Juventus, I would reluctantly welcome it for the pure sports/competitive aspect of it. Aaron?

Aaron: Much as I hate Ibrahimovic, I love Ibrahimovic. I still blame him for going to Inter after Calciopoli, but frankly, he’s one of the best in the world in a position we obviously have issues in. I think we should take him back if so.

Ibraimhovic carries a lot of baggage with Juventus fans, though. Would an ageing forward be worth that kind of controversy?

John: That’s a very good point. I’ve often given a pass to Zambrotta, Thuram and Cannavaro for at least moving abroad, although I’ve soured on the latter who notably did return as well and was not warmly embraced by the tifosi. Ibrahimovic and Vieira went to Inter of all teams — particularly insulting considering the glut of post-calciopoli evidence which has since emerged and shown them as a worse, if not the guilty party. Yet, unlike Vieira, Ibra has never had a bad thing to say about Juventus, even providing some pretty positive testimony during thehearings which occurred during the summers after Calciopoli. I am paraphrasing, but I believe his testimony was to the effect that Juve did not cheat, nor did they need to, as they were the best team in the world. Powerful stuff.

Aaron: Yeah, I’ve always held it against Zlatan for going to Inter. But he was only 22 years old, and while it still makes me bitter, I can understand 2 years at Juventus isn’t exactly meriting of a testimonial match. To me, there’s a lot of controversy, but unlike the Fabio Cannavaro re-signing (thanks, Secco) there’s a lot of upside to the controversy. I think the fans honestly will be more excited to see Zlatan arrive, just because he’s so good. Now excuse me while I bury my tears in an ADP#10 shirt.

Zlatan-IbrahimovicA key component of Conte’s Juve is both hard work and sacrificing for the team. The forwards currently work very hard for the midfield, would Ibrahimovic compromise this?

Aaron: I don’t think so. There was a lot of talk about while at Milan, he was running hard up front, and screaming at his teammates. His justification was, if I work hard, I have the right to yell at other players on the field. At Inter, he just walked around. I think Ibra can work hard, as long as he’s properly motivated to. And a team competing on 3 fronts under Antonio Conte, well, it’s harder to think of more motivation that doesn’t violate the Geneva Convention.

John: That’s certainly one of the things I am deeply concerned about. Conte’s Juventus is successful because its sum is greater than the parts, and there is concern about what an egomaniac like Ibra, who would also undoubtedly become the highest wage earner on the squad, would do to that dynamic — regardless of the talent. But beyond that, I am highly concerned about how he would get on with Conte.

I’ve always thought that Conte would do well with troubled players which is why at this point, all things being equal, I’d rather spend a bit more (in the € 25 million range) for Luis Suarez, now that his value has probably dropped after his little biting episode than the older Ibrahimovic. Yes, he’s equally troublesome but in a different way. Suarez seems to be a straight-up moron with a crazy streak, but it is motivated by his sheer desire to win which is telling. In addition to his immense talent, he always works and fights hard, and that is what gets him into trouble at times. A player like that, I think, would work well with Conte. Crazy, but (let’s be honest) kind of simple, and can be molded by a strong leader like Conte. Ibra on the other than is problematic out of sheer arrogance. He admits that he is difficult to work with. The only saving grace in this regard is that he at least has the talent to back it up.

Aaron: I think Ibrahimovic is arrogant and wants to win. He may have difficulties with Conte, but I don’t feel like he’s irrationally stupid like Suarez or Balotelli can be. Ibra’s getting older and maybe more mature, his pay deal will really reveal why he’s coming to Juve. If he wants to return to Italy, spearhead an advanced project, and maybe win a Champion’s League, he’ll accept a decent paycut. If Ibra’s not interested in sacrificing for the team, he won’t do a paycut and he won’t come to Juve.

As for Suarez, he scares me. I understand maybe some underhanded “furbizia” tactics may be a desire to win, but where the hell does biting a player (twice) come into the desire to win? But that’s a different debate.

John: Haven’t you been really hungry before, Aaron? Ok, moving on…

Aaron: I’m very hungry. Especially since John went to Wegmans mid-conversation to grab dinner. [Note: For most of our readers, Wegmans is a Northeastern/Mid-Atlantic grocery store that is the best thing in the world. We have not been paid for mentioning this.]

John: They’ve got a great hot food area. Anyway…

Aaron: That got to Arrested Development levels of corporate shilling. Except we’re not even sponsored by them. What the hell?

How about tactics? Teams with Ibrahimovic are often Ibra-dependent. Both Inter and Milan essentially passed it to Ibra, and let him do all the work. That wouldn’t fly with Conte’s Juve, would it?

John: That would not fly at all. As I mentioned, the sum is greater than the parts. But as Aaron pointed out, Ibra seemed to work harder at Milan than at Inter. So long as that is the mentality he brings with him over to Juve, the short answer is that it could work.

fernando-llorente-esquire-magazine-black-and-whiteAaron: Certainly not. It’d require Ibra to adapt. I don’t think teams that play Ibra are necessarily Ibra-dependent, it generally spoke to the weakness of their tactics or ability to possess the ball. There is a danger in it, though, as Juve create plenty of chances but fail to convert. If he’s banging in the goals, he’ll get the ball more and more. But I don’t ever see it turning into a situation like when he was at Inter, and that’ll be the interesting thing. I think it’ll be the first time post-Calciopoli Zlatan hasn’t been charged with carrying a team. I don’t know how that’ll play out.

We agree Ibrahimovic betrayed Juventus- should that scupper his move?

John: Well, I always like to say that I look at the club and the sport from a Soccernomics/ business-first lens. I try and look at no players as unsellable, so long as the sale can improve the team (selling Zidane to purchase Nedved, Buffon, and Thuram being the perfect example). Of course, there are the Del Pieros of the world whom you grow attached to, but I try to disregard emotional attachment and consider those players the exception. At any rate, if I find that mentality best suited for the club it most certainly should work both ways, should it not?

Aaron: It’s a tough question. Not everyone is going to be a Del Piero (see ahem Gotze) and not everyone is going to be a pure mercenary. I think you need a bit of both. And while Ibrahimovic will never be a bandiera, he doesn’t have to be. I didn’t like Stankovic-to-Juve, but that was largely because he was a worthless player.

If Juventus were to sign Ibrahimovic, what do you see happening with Fernando Llorente?

Aaron: I don’t think they’re incompatible or wouldn’t work together. They’re both big men, but they are very different types. Llorente is a finisher, good in the air, whereas Ibra likes the ball at his feet. They could definitely work together and given their height, it’d be a scary attack. I like the idea because it’s two tall men, but certainly not two Peter Crouches up top- they have a lot of talent with their feet. It depends on the formation, but I’d still expect to see Llorente starting.

John: I think they could co-exist for the reasons you mentioned, Aaron. My only gripe would be that if the two of them are on the pitch at once, it would likely need to be in a two-striker formation. I can’t see either of them playing anywhere on the side in a trident attack. That’s a shame because I’ve been advocating for shifting tactics utilizing a 4-3-3 or some modification thereof. Acquiring forward players in the mould of Alexis Sanchez or Stevan Jovetic would certainly fit this bill better.

Aaron: That implies that there’s a 4-3-3 formation that doesn’t involve Simone Pepe.

If signing Ibra required selling Vidal, would you do it?

Aaron: Eh, enough with this question already.

John: You wrote it.

Arturo-Vidal-black-and-whiteAaron: Damn. I’d say no. Vidal is a world class midfielder and I’d rather not strengthen our offense at the expense of our fantastic midfield. Short of a 50m+ offer, I don’t think we should sell Re Arturo.

John: No. I have been on record as saying I would sell Vidal, but not for Ibra. Vidal is 25, and just about to enter his peak. Ibra is 31 and just about to exit his. If we sell Vidal, it should be to improve the team in a way that maximizes the benefits to us, just like the above-mentioned Zidane example. Now, if we sign Ibra anyway but have the opportunity to sell Vidal for an obscene figure and can immediately reinvest the funds in other players, I’m all ears (i.e. if it means this pipe dream). But if it’s essentially a Vidal-for-Ibra swap, no way.

To be clear, my entire acceptance of an Ibra redux would be under the premise that he wants to return to Italy so badly that Raiola forces him out of Paris and we get him on the cheap. If the rumors of Cavani to P$G are true, that is a definite possibility. Otherwise I’d pass on Ibra. I think that in light of all the potential negatives discussed above, it would have to be really worth Juve’s while in order to do it. That means a (relatively) low financial commitment.

Aaron: You’re saying you’re not Alessio Secco?

John: Of course not. There is only one, and I am not him. Alessio Secco would spend €30 million plus Paul Pogba, Carlos Garcia, and Nicola Leali for Ibra, and given him a 5 year contract, then unilaterally offered to extend it for an extra year at 25% higher wages by the winter. And then sign Kevin Kuranyi because he is Brazilian with an EU passport, and looks kind of like Amauri.

 

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