The Zlatan Ibrahimovic autobiography keeps creating shock waves, including taking obvious personal shots at Pep Guardiola and Lionel Messi. While the manager has his Bayern Munich bosses to defend him, it seems the Barcelona star has Xavi doing his protection services.
According to the Barcelona playmaker, Messi makes you a better player, he’s the best in the world. If you can’t play together with Leo, you are to blame. Who is this referred to? Probably Ibrahimovic, although no one will obviously say. But when looking back at the past five years since Barcelona returned to the top of the European game (or near the top), Messi has done quite well with strikers, when he’s actually playing with one.
Samuel Eto’o did very well, despite the constant reference of his ego. David Villa before his injury was hugely successful, even if he didn’t always play as a true 9 with Messi. There were plenty of times he was the striker who keeps centre backs busy while Messi takes advantage of that, playing slightly behind him. There were a few times that worked last year, but Villa wasn’t used quite enough last season, and didn’t play very well on most occasions.
Alexis Sanchez is another winger who has played very well with Lionel Messi when given the chance to be a ‘real’ 9, most memorably in the first Clasico match of 2011-2012. Against certain types of defense, having Messi playing behind someone isn’t a bad idea at all, and there’s a good chance that we’ll see some more of it with Gerardo Martino on the sidelines.
With Zlatan Ibarhimovic, it didn’t work, especially during the second half of the 2009-2010 season. Ibrahimovic found it hard to share space with Messi once Guardiola moved him to a more central and forward position. There was also Ibrahimovic’s personal issues at the club and especially with his manager, but the two didn’t connect on the field as well.
Messi can play with strikers, as the success of Argentina during the qualifying campaign proved to us. Messi played behind Gonzalo Higuain, and the two seem to have an excellent relationship on the field, while with Sergio Aguero it extend beyond that. Messi doesn’t seem to interfere with their ability to score goals or feel like someone is eating away at their position.
And Messi does make players around him better. It’s easy to forget what a wonderful passer he is because he’s such an excellent finisher as well. Assist numbers don’t tell the story, but watching him use his vision when he drops back from the penalty box a bit closer to the midfield enables you to see what an excellent passer he is.
Taking Zlatan Ibrahimovic too seriously is never wise. Besides being an excellent footballer, he’s a person who loves to create a headline with sensational quotes, helping him sell his book as well. Even if he does have his negative opinion about Messi, Guardiola and the whole Barcelona experience, there’s just been too much we’ve seen from Messi over the years to let one book and opinion spoil our own about the best footballer in the world.