When Zlatan Ibrahimovic joined Barcelona in 2009, Leo Messi appeared to be less than pleased, and he let Pep Guardiola know it.
Leo Messi cemented his claim to be the best player to have ever lived after winning the World Cup with his beloved Argentina earlier this month.
The seven-time winner of the Ballon d’Or made Qatar 2022 his own private playground by motivating the Albiceleste to victory with a bravado infrequently seen on the international arena.
But 13 years ago, Messi was a 22-year-old at Camp Nou, and he didn’t have exactly the same level of rock-solid confidence that he does now.
The young Argentine was reportedly worried about how the signing of Ibrahimovic may influence his own prospects despite already having three La Liga championships under his belt and having established himself as one of the top players in the world at that time in his career.
To be fair to Leo Messi, the imposing Swedish forward arrived in Spain from Inter Milan with a frightening reputation following a lucrative swap deal involving Samuel Eto’o (and a £57 million cost).
Ibrahimovic scored 29 goals in 47 games during his final season in the Italian city, and there was tremendous anticipation that he would maintain this remarkable ratio while playing for Barca under Guardiola.
At Barcelona, how did Ibrahimovic perform?
Although he managed to score a respectable 22 goals in 46 games for La Blaugrana, his relationship with Guardiola quickly soured, and after just one season he was sent out on loan to AC Milan.
Zlatan described Barcelona as “a wonderful squad” in a 2020 interview with AS.
“The first six months were excellent, but then, through the coach’s fault, things went south.”
That jab came after Ibrahimovic wrote in his memoirs that “[Pep] preferred to make Messi happy – he didn’t value me.”
During that season, Guardiola did change his strategy, pulling Messi in from the right flank and putting him in a more central position, at Zlatan’s expense.
Despite Ibrahimovic’s disapproval, Messi found himself right at home down the middle, scoring 47 goals in 53 appearances for Barcelona in the 2009–10 season.
The choice was made by Pep in a tactical masterstroke, but it may have been sparked by a text Messi wrote to Guardiola early in the season.
The Messi Mystery, a 2012 book by Sebastian Fest and Alex Juillard, claims that Messi sent his manager a letter after Ibrahimovic joined the team because he had “failed to shine” in the season’s first few games.
The note, which was supposedly written when Messi was riding the Barcelona team bus, shows Messi’s fragility at the moment.
Guardiola’s response to Messi’s letter when Ibrahimovic joined Barcelona
Messi’s message may not have been written exactly, but the spirit is clear. I realize I’m no longer necessary to the squad, thus…
Messi had left this play unfinished, in contrast to his flawless plays on the field.
The signing of Ibrahimovic by Barca was referred to as “bad news” for Messi elsewhere in the book.
Leo had received bad news with the arrival of Ibrahimovic, a signing with which Guardiola had persisted.
“Messi realized this and began to express his feelings to the coach who had won his favor by allowing him to represent Argentina at the Olympic Games in Beijing.
“But this time there was danger; Ibrahimovic was performing well and Messi had struggled to shine in a few games. There were issues for the Argentine all of a sudden.
Guardiola undoubtedly understood Messi’s value to the team even at that relatively early point of his Barcelona career.
We can’t say with certainty whether the text message mentioned above served as the impetus, but we do know that once Messi moved into a central position, his goal-scoring prowess took off, and he hasn’t looked back.
With 672 points in 778 games for the Catalan club, Messi was unquestionably the best player Barca had ever had by the time he left Camp Nou in August 2021.
For comparison, that is precisely 650 more than Zlatan was able to do.