Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement has released a torrent of transfer speculation involving the club he is leaving after more than 26 years, many of its players and a handful of superstars currently plying their trades elsewhere.
Wayne Rooney is one player whose Manchester United future is very much up in the air heading into the summer months, and incoming manager David Moyes will likely sound out offers for Anderson and Nani as well.
But there will also be fresh blood in the team come August as Moyes looks to both freshen up a side that looked stale at times down the stretch and add a personal touch to a roster he had no part in assembling.
Not surprisingly, many of his transfer targets will involve midfielders, as it has been in the centre of the park that United have looked most vulnerable the past few seasons. Paul Scholes’ retirement will leave them short an option in the position while Tom Cleverley has struggled to nail down a consistent spot.
The versatile Phil Jones splits his time between the midfield and the defense, and the Ryan Giggs-Michael Carrick partnership is hardly one for the future. Then there is Darren Fletcher’s ongoing health problems and the likelihood the Scotland international could be forced into premature retirement.
With all this in mind, United have reportedly approached Barcelona with the intent of signing Cesc Fabregas, who from 2003 until 2011 represented Premier League rivals Arsenal (via Simon Johnson, Standard).
But since returning to his boyhood club, the now-26-year-old has largely been kept at the periphery of the squad, functioning mostly in a backup role each of Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.
Last September, after just a single season at Camp Nou, he vented his frustration to Radio Marca, saying, “I’ve always said that I play for the best team in the world, but I came here to compete, to learn and enjoy—not to sit wracking my brains.”
He added (via Daily Mail): “I always wish my teammates well and put a happy face on.”
Not coincidentally, United were linked with Fabregas then as well (Guardian), although the sudden availability of Robin van Persie quickly turned their attention elsewhere.
But the Spain international is a self-admitted Manchester United fan, and in the run-up to Arsenal’s Champions League encounter with the Red Devils in 2009, he told the News of the World he had “no problem saying” United were the best club in the world at the time.
“I’m a massive Man United fan,” he said (via Gill Clark, Goal.com)
It looks as though Fabregas is back on United’s radar for a second consecutive summer, with £20 million likely to be Barcelona’s asking price. And if United could somehow secure his services, they would instantly go some way toward solving a midfield depth problem that looms large over next season.
Under Ferguson, United often operated with a passer-runner combination in the centre of the park, and with Carrick filling the “passer” role, Fabregas would be a natural fit to play alongside the PFA Player of the Season finalist.
Versatile, attack-minded and accustomed to the English game, Fabregas would add an element to the United midfield that went missing when Scholes’ career began winding down. And, unlike at Tito Vilanova’s Barcelona, he would almost certainly get regular, first-team minutes at Moyes’ United.
With Carrick operating from deep, Fabregas would be given the sort of freedom to link play that he thought he’d be getting when he moved back to Spain.
None of Xavi, Iniesta and Messi are about to relinquish their places, however, and that’s fine. There’s no shame in being the preferred cover to three of the best footballers in the world.
What Fabregas has to decide is whether providing that cover is enough to satisfy his ambitions.