By Kris Voakes
On Sunday afternoon, Juventus could well become champions of Italy for the 29th time. They did that once before. Back in 2006, a 2-0 victory over Reggina at Bari's Stadio San Nicola crowned them for the 29th time, only for the Calciopoli trials to strip them of that title and the one they had won the year before.
One of the Juve players back then was Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Left devastated by the insinuation that he had become a double Scudetto winner through foul means rather than sheer effort, the Swede immediately lambasted the findings of the courts. “Referees did us favours? Oh come on!” raged Ibrahimovic. “We fought hard on the pitch. We risked our legs and did it all without any help from referees. It’s all a load of crap.”
But weeks later, he was to be an Inter player. Like so many others in the Turin outfit's first-team squad, Serie B was not what he had planned for his future, but his decision to sign for the club that Juventini were fingering as the dark enemy of the scandal caused a furore amongst the fan-base. Ibrahimovic had decided to take a dispassionate, professional approach to the transfer and, not being one to care much about making his way into a few people’s bad books, he got on with his career.
Now, with the Bianconeri on the verge of a 31st title party, the Swede’s name is looming large once more. Recent reports have suggested there is a willingness on both the club and the player’s part for a reunion, with Ibra’s agent, Mino Raiola, stating that a move back to Turin is definitely a consideration for his player.
The main opposition to the move, though, would come from the terraces at Juventus Stadium. Having seen players such as Gianluigi Buffon, Alessandro Del Piero and Pavel Nedved strengthen their positions as club legends by agreeing to stay on through their Serie B ordeal, many Bianconeri supporters say they would find it difficult to cheer on a Juventus side with Ibrahimovic back in tow.
|"Referees did us favours? Oh come on! We fought hard on the pitch. We risked our legs and did it all without any help from referees. It's all a load of crap"
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic on Calciopoli
Yet the truth is that the Paris Saint-Germain spearhead is exactly the type of player they need. For the last two seasons, the only thing that has held them back from becoming a great all-round unit has been their difficulties in attack. Alessandro Matri, Mirko Vucinic, Sebastian Giovinco and Fabio Quagliarella have all been ineffective in front of goal for the most part, while moves for the likes of Marco Borriello, Nicklas Bendtner and Nicolas Anelka have borne predictably disappointing returns.
In Ibrahimovic they would be signing somebody who is still producing to a very high level, has a huge amount of experience combined with a magnificent array of skill, power, attitude and authority and, most importantly, is a winner. While many ignoramuses claim him to be a big-game bottler, he has a record which stands up to pretty much any level of scrutiny.
Yes, there are political reasons not to sign Ibra. Yes, he may command a fair old wage packet. And yes, he is 31 now. But he continues to produce, he continues to be one of the best finishers in the world, he continues to bully opposition defences no matter what their level, and he continues to be exactly the sort of player that Juve have missed over the past two years.
It may take a bit of swallowing for Juventus fans, but just as Ibrahimovic was professional about doing what was best for his career back in 2006, now is the time for those that populate the curve each week to be professional and think about what is best for their club over the next few years. The likes of Edinson Cavani, Robert Lewandowski et al would come at a much higher premium, while Fernando Llorente will arrive in the summer without Ibra’s kind of track record. Some may see taking back the Swede seven years after he shunned them as a loss of pride, but pride generally comes before a fall.
If Juventus are to become serious challengers in Europe once more, then they should have nothing in their armoury bar a steely determination to succeed. And by allowing Ibrahimovic the chance to come back and win more trophies that cannot be tainted or questioned, then they could yet reach even greater heights than those they have achieved over the past two years.