Pep Guardiola won everything during his first season in charge of Barcelona, during the 2008/09 campaign, but he knew it was important to strengthen his squad the following summer.
Guardiola decided to replace Samuel Eto’o with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, one of Europe’s most revered strikers who had just scored 66 goals 117 games for Inter, and a lucrative swap deal was subsequently finalised.
As well as swapping the two players, Barcelona also coughed up an additional £57 million for the mercurial Swedish forward, who was 27 at the time.
“It feels like I’m living a dream now,” Zlatan told journalists after completing his move to Camp Nou.
But it didn’t take long for the dream to turn into a nightmare.
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Zlatan scored 21 goals during his debut campaign with the Catalan giants – an admirable return for any striker in their first season as a new club – but his relationship with Guardiola deteriorated beyond the point of no return.
The break-down of their working relationship has been well documented over the past 10 years. Zlatan has made no secret of the fact he doesn’t rate Guardiola – who he calls ‘The Philosopher’ – quite as highly as the rest of us.
But was Zlatan’s ‘failure’ at Barça partly down to Lionel Messi?
Ibrahimovic has always spoken very fondly about Messi, although he wrote in his autobiography ‘I am Zlatan’: “[Pep] preferred to make Messi happy – he didn’t value me.”
This may have been because Messi was the superior footballer – or maybe it’s because of a text message that Messi sent to Guardiola shortly after Zlatan arrived.
A 2012 book titled ‘The Messi Mystery’ by Sebastian Fest and Alex Juillard – per Goal.com – claims a concerned Messi sent Guardiola a message while sat on the Barcelona bus.
Unable to express himself with direct dialogue, the Argentine star typed a short message to his manager to make his feelings clear.
Spanish football writer Ben Hayward wrote: “The exact wording of Messi’s message is disputed, but the sentiment straightforward. ‘I can see that I am no longer important to the team, so …’
“Unlike his perfect plays on the pitch, Messi had left this one unfinished.”
Messi was 22 at the time and wasn’t yet universally regarded as the world’s best footballer.
He felt threatened by Zlatan’s arrival – a feeling exacerbated by the fact he’d just produced two poor performances at the start of the 2009/10 season, leaving him questioning his role at the club.
“Messi knew it and started to make his feelings known to a coach who had won him over by giving him the green light to play for Argentina at the Olympic Games in Beijing,” the book states. “But this time there was danger; Messi had failed to shine in a few games and Ibrahimovic was playing well. Suddenly, there were complications for the Argentine.”
Guardiola eventually moved Messi to a central position, at the expense of Zlatan, and the South American responded by netting 47 goals in 53 games.
Ibrahimovic – a totally different character to the likes of Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi – became increasingly frustrated and there was no way back for him under Guardiola after he screamed “You have no balls! You are s**t scared of Mourinho!” during one particularly heated dressing room row not long after Barça were beaten by Mourinho’s Inter in the Champions League.
Messi, on the other hand, went on to become Barcelona’s greatest ever player and arguably the best footballer of all time.