Even in a transfer market inflated by big spenders such as Manchester City, Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain, £35 million is a lot of money—and it’s what Barcelona ended up turning down in exchange for midfielder Cesc Fabregas.
On Friday, the Spain international, who joined the Catalan giants in a £25.5 million move from Arsenal in 2011, put to bed once and for all the idea that he would be moving to Manchester United before the end of the summer.
In desperate need of a deep-lying, playmaking midfielder, United had made a series of bids for the 26-year-old and even offered to double his wages to £200,000 per year. (Mirror)
And while no one would have blamed Fabregas for jumping at the opportunity, Barcelona demonstrated their faith in the player by consistently refusing United’s advances.
In an interview with Catalan outlet Sport last Sunday, Barcelona director Andoni Zubizarreta warned the Red Devils off Fabregas once and for all, saying, “Manchester United were interested in him, but they have also understood our stance that we don’t want to sell him.” (FIFA.com)
Their loyalty was repaid by Fabregas on Friday, when during a press conference in Malaysia he confirmed he was “very happy” at Barcelona and hadn’t spoken to any other club “in the last two years.” (Daily Mail)
He added: “I’ve been relaxed about it the whole time. I didn’t have to clarify anything because the only thing I was thinking about was staying at Barca.”
Now that he’s staying, and everyone knows it, he’ll no doubt be keen to show why the Primera Division champions were right to keep him on their books by putting together a campaign even better and more productive than the one he’s coming off of.
Routinely criticized by certain sections of Barcelona supporters and the club’s demanding press corps whenever things don’t go exactly to plan—such as when the Blaugrana were dumped out the Champions League by Bayern Munich last spring—Fabregas nevertheless finished second to Lionel Messi on the club’s goalscoring ledger last season and also contributed 11 assists over the course of the campaign—just one fewer than the four-time Ballon d’Or winner.
In more meticulous statistical categories, however—and this is where his Catalan critics have been especially hard on him—his pass completion rate (88.6 percent) has been significantly inferior to that of Xavi Hernandez (94.8), the midfielder he is supposed to one day help replace. (All statistics courtesy WhoScored.com.)
Not that there is actually any way to replace a player of Xavi’s calibre. The 33-year-old, along with Andres Iniesta (who also passed at a rate of more than 90 percent last season and was named UEFA Best Player in Europe) have established the Barcelona midfield template in recent years, and while teammates can be plugged into the template when they’re absent, it’s just not realistic to expect the same level of performance.
United spokesman: "We appreciate Cesc (Fabregas) is a contracted player at Barcelona and completely respect everything Cesc has said today."— Eurosport.com EN (@EurosportCom_EN) August 8, 2013
That’s what Fabregas is up against, and it’s what he must come to terms with on the field before he’ll be recognized on a similar level as his famous countrymen.
He may have played well enough to be Tito Vilanova’s first-choice replacement for both Xavi and Iniesta when one or both were missing last season, but what he must do now is convince current manager Gerardo Martino that he’s a more-than-useful first-choice selection in his own right.
Do that, and he’ll repay Barcelona's faith while United’s regret at having missed out on him will be even greater than it is now.