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Inter, Barca poised to swap strikers

BARCELONA has reportedly agreed to pay Inter Milan 40 million euros (US$56 million) for striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic in a deal that will also send striker Samuel Eto'o and midfielder Aleksandr Hleb to Italy.

According to reports in the Spanish media yesterday, the deal was agreed during a dinner meeting between Barcelona president Joan Laporta and Inter president Massimo Moratti in Milan on Thursday night.

Sweden striker Ibrahimovic is Barcelona's first marquee signing since Barcelona became the first Spanish club to win the treble last season. Belarus midfielder Hleb is heading to the San Siro on loan.

Moratti said that the impromptu meeting with Laporta -- and Barcelona sporting director Txiki Beguiristain -- was originally intended to tie up left back Maxwell's 4.5 million euros (US$6.4 million) transfer to Barcelona and complete Hleb's move.

"We obviously talked about other things because for them it was interesting to know something about Ibrahimovic," Moratti said. "We also spoke about Eto'o to understand if it's possible to do a deal with these two players. If an operation of this kind was carried out, it would regard both players."

Eto'o had already rejected a lucrative offer from Manchester City this summer. The Cameroon striker instead opted to stay and let his contract run out so he could leave the Camp Nou without a transfer fee at the end of next season despite Barcelona offering a two-year extension to his current deal.

Barcelona agreed to extend the 28-year-old Eto'o's vacation time as it sought a replacement. Valencia's David Villa was linked with a potential move but Barcelona was unwilling to meet Valencia's 50 million euros asking price for the Spain striker.

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola originally wanted to sell the volatile Eto'o last summer after saying the three-time Africa footballer of the year would not factor into the club's plans. But Eto'o, who won three league championships, two European Cups and one Copa del Rey title in five seasons at the Catalan club, scored 34 goals in 50 appearances last season, including the winner in the Champions League final victory over Manchester United. That victory allowed Barcelona to become only the fifth European team to win the treble.

The 27-year-old Ibrahimovic, who led Serie A with 25 goals last season, guided Inter to three straight Serie A league titles since a 12 million euros move from Juventus in 2006.


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