Calcio Debate: Will Inter Fall Apart If Zlatan Ibrahimovic Leaves?

It looks as if the avant-garde Swede will exit the San Siro in the summer after three massively successful years with the Nerazzurri.'s Gil Gillespie wonders what they will do without him...

The player himself couldn't really make his wishes any clearer.

"I won everything in Italy, I learnt a lot from Italy. But there is a moment in your life, like when I was at Ajax, when you say to yourself you want to try something new," explained Ibrahimovic in an interview to be shown next week on Eurosport.

"I think Spanish football is more the way I play. I like technical football and they play technically there.

"I have a contract with Inter and I feel good. But as the same time I would like to test something new now because I've been in Italy for five years."

The Swede is tied down to the Beneamata until 2013 but, as we discovered with Kaka's refusal to move to Manchester City, the wishes of individual players are sometimes paramount, even in these days of multi-million pound wheeling and dealing across the continent.

The only potential spanner in the works may be his enormous wages. As transfer consultant Ernesto Bronzetti has pointed out this week. He currently earns a higher salary than any other player in the world, taking home €9,000,000 a year. That's €750,000 a month.

"I am convinced that no European club will be willing to spend €12 million per year [on wages], that is a deal that ensures the Swede will remain at Inter," explained the FIFA agent to Eurosport.

But if Ibrahimovic does up sticks and move to one of the big Primera Division clubs, where does that leave Jose Mourinho and his decidedly workmanlike soon-to-be Scudetto holders?

Ibrahimovic has been Inter's get out clause ever since he deserted the sinking Juventus ship on August 10, 2006. All too often, when his side have been playing poorly and seemingly heading for a fall, the 27-year-old Swedish international has come to their rescue, often with a piece of outrageous, totally unpredictable skill.

And 52 goals in 82 games for Inter is one hell of a return for a support striker.

Ever since his €12 million move to the club he supported as a boy, ‘Ibra’ has been Inter's most important player and they have always struggled when he hasn't been available.

Who can forget last season's wobble at the summit, when after being out with a chronic knee injury the big man returned, half-fit, and scored both goals as Inter won 2-0 against Parma to clinch their third straight Scudetto?

Would Inter have won two - now surely three league titles - without their inspirational striker? Who knows. But one thing is for sure, in their current state they ain't half going to miss him when he's gone.

For one thing, Mourinho will be forced into a drastic shift in tactics. If he can't rely on the often breathtaking audacity of Ibrahimovic in and around the box, he is going to have to find a whole lot more creativity in midfield. The safety first quartet of Esteban Cambiasso, Sulley Muntari, Javier Zanetti and Dejan Stankovic are not exactly designed to slice through opposition defences like a red hot axe through melting candyfloss.

It is not possible to simply replace Ibrahimovic with another striker because he, essentially, performs the role of two; a fantasista who drifts in and around the space behind the main centre-forward and a goal scoring powerhouse who is sharp enough and strong enough to get into the box and get on the end of crosses and through balls. He is, remember, six-foot three-and-a-half, a giant with the feet of a ballerina, and this makes him pretty much unique in the world game.

With Adriano taking a breather from the game, Argentine pairing Hernan Crespo and Julio Cruz nearing the end of their careers and Mario Balotelli far too young and raw to lead the line on his own, Mourinho will surely have to buy two new attacking players, as well as two new midfielders - not easy in the current economic climate.

Genoa hitman Diego Milito is one option currently being considered but any move for the striker, who has scored 15 goals in 22 starts in Serie A this season, will surely have to be put on hold until Massimo Moratti and his coach know whether their most valuable asset is about to kiss them goodbye.

The Times newspaper's excellent columnist Gabriele Marcotti recently put Zlatan Ibrahimovic 19th in a list of the top 50 players ever to play for Inter, ahead of legends such as Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Christian Vieri.

If the player aptly nicknamed 'Ibracadabra' is about to take off that blue and black striped No. 8 shirt for the last time, his magic is going to be impossible to replace.

Gil Gillespie,