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Barcelona has initial agreement for Ibrahimovic

BARCELONA reached an initial agreement with Inter Milan to sign striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic yesterday in a deal that could also send striker Samuel Eto'o and midfielder Aleksandr Hleb to the Italian champions.

Barcelona president Joan Laporta said "there is an agreement in principle with Inter Milan." On Thursday, Spanish news reports said a €40 million (US$56 million) deal for the Sweden striker had been completed.

The Catalan club, however, said it was still negotiating with Inter with the deal dependent on Ibrahimovic and Eto'o, so other options - such as Valencia striker David Villa - had not been discarded.

"Ibrahimovic's signing depends on the player himself, on Samuel Eto'o and all the parties involved," said Laporta, who added that he had been personally discussing the matter with Eto'o. "David Villa as an option is not finished. We haven't discarded any possibilities."

Ibrahimovic appeared prepared to accept the move after writing "time to learn Spanish" on his Twitter page.

Inter president Massimo Moratti said that the impromptu meeting with Laporta and Barcelona sporting director Txiki Beguiristain on Thursday was originally intended to tie up left back Maxwell's €4.5 million (US$6.4 million) transfer to Barcelona and complete Hleb's move, which is expected to be a season-long loan deal.

Beguiristain hoped to complete any transfer by July 27 as the club looks for its first marquee signing since it became the first Spanish club to win the treble last season.

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 (US$17 million) move from Juventus in 2006. The former Ajax player has scored 21 goals in 58 appearances for Sweden.

"We're trying to manage the best options possible. The Ibrahimovic option is still open," Beguiristain said. "Inter could be a good club for Eto'o."

Eto'o had already rejected a lucrative offer from Manchester City. The Cameroon striker instead opted to stay and let his contract run out so he could leave 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. Villa was linked with a potential move but Barcelona is unwilling to meet Valencia's €50 million (US$71 million) asking price for the Spain striker.

Atletico Madrid's Diego Forlan is also thought to be a Barcelona target.

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola originally wanted to sell the volatile Eto'o last year after saying the three-time African 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 Barcelona - won Guardiola over with 34 goals in 50 appearances last season, including the winner in the Champions League final against Manchester United. That victory allowed Barcelona to become only the fifth European team to win the treble.

Hleb played a minor role in Barcelona's success last season, often coming on as a substitute to make 34 appearances in his first season after a transfer from Arsenal.


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