When Cesc Fabregas came home in 2011, the player, club and supporters were united in their elation. The midfielder had left a boy, yet he returned a man.
He learnt his skills as a collective unit with Gerard Pique and Lionel Messi at La Masia, then honed his individual technique and grew physically in London.
The presumption by many was that he may have been one of the top attacking midfielders around, but how was he going to get into the world's best midfield three?
With the rotation of the squad, varying positions for Fabregas and Pep Guardiola tinkering with the formation to include all four players, it wasn't quite the issue in the end.
His impact was immediate as he scored five goals in the September after he signed.
After waiting six years for a trophy at the Emirates, he had won the Supercopa de Espana and UEFA Super Cup in the matter of weeks.
A hamstring injury during October ruled him out, though, when he reappeared, he netted again in the Champions League against FC Viktoria Plzen and domestically against Athletic Bilbao.
However, it became apparent that although he was more than familiar with the unique concept of tiki-taka, his time away from the club meant it was no longer second nature.
At Arsenal, they play an attractive brand of football, and those less used to comparing the styles assume that they are of the same approach.
As former Liverpool and Valencia assistant manager Pako Ayestaran once explained to me, there are certain components that make the brand so effective.
These include particular movements to attract the opposition, the pressing off the ball and always having a purpose within each pass.
This meant that Fabregas had to tune himself to the philosophy once more, which frustrated him and his manager.
Without a regular position, it made the adaptation even harder. He was used out on the left and at the tip of a diamond, while he is still playing as part of the midfield three and as a false nine.
On the left of the front three, he would drift inside and overload the midfield area. He was more of an inside left, but this meant that there was no out-ball at times, and as he isn't a natural winger, the runs without possession weren't at the right angles.
At the tip of a diamond, he was essentially a No. 10. Messi would drop into the midfield and Fabregas would take advantage of the space left vacated. His forward runs were perfect for penetrating the opposition's defence, especially when they had problems with sterile domination in the past.
Fabregas, Xavi and Andres Iniesta were shoehorned into the same side by Guardiola, using a 3-4-3 formation. "Midfielders are intelligent players who have to think about the team as a whole," Guardiola once told FIFA.com.
"They’re selfless players who understand the game better than anyone and the more midfielders you have, the easier it is to slot them into other positions. That’s how they become versatile and that helps us to have smaller squads that are still able to offer more options."
Replacing either Iniesta or Xavi in the centre of the park was the logical position that many thought was his natural calling. It's a job that he does, just not in the same manner.
As a false nine he is comfortable dropping into central areas and allowing others the space to run in to. He is also particularly fond of arriving late into the box. Fabregas plays the role different to that of Messi as there are less slalom runs.
At times he is simply a midfielder playing as a striker, as he is happy to play up against a centre-back and a lot better in the air than many would credit him for.
Fabregas was used to playing in different parts of the midfield under Arsene Wenger, so the decision for him to be the one that moved around more made sense, but the question is: Was he allowed more freedom at Arsenal?
Pique certainly thinks so. "I can see how going back to a positional game can be difficult if you have had the freedom to play according to your intuition instead of a collective order," the defender told Guillem Balague in an interview for The Daily Telegraph.
"I can see how Cesc would like to have more freedom as he used to have at Arsenal, but you have to play according to where you are, of course," Pique continued.
In both of his first two seasons back in Spain, he played 48 games for his club, scoring 15 goals in 2011/12 and 14 in 2012/13, via ESPN statistics. Though, he wasn't entirely happy due to missing out in some important games and appearing from the bench.
This led to speculation over his future, which reached new heights last summer with Manchester United's very public pursuit. David Moyes was hardly inconspicuous in his attempt to make Fabregas his marquee signing.
Fabregas was described as unsettled and considering a move back to England by David Anderson of The Daily Mirror. Telling friends in England that he wanted to leave the Catalan side for United, according to Ian Ladyman of The Daily Mail.
"I never planned to go back this summer. It's not something I was even thinking about," Fabregas explained to Sid Lowe at The Guardian. "I was always clear in my mind that I want to succeed at Barcelona and I'd give everything to triumph here."
United were convinced that the former Arsenal man was on his way. "At no time did I say that I wanted to go and I stayed out of it. I was surprised. I didn't encourage them at all," said Fabregas, per Lowe.
Whether or not someone in the players camp dropped hints that he was willing to talk is still unclear, but the whole saga benefited Fabregas by giving him a greater standing within the squad.
Now under Gerardo Martino, he is undergoing his best form for the Blaugrana. He has started more league games than anyone at the club and currently has the highest assist record in La Liga, via WhoScored.com.
The player is evidently affected by the confidence of the coach and needs reassurances to maintain his highest level. "In Tata Martino I've found a coach who is perhaps a little different from Tito and Pep and who loves to play a slightly different kind of football," said Fabregas to Graham Hunter at ESPN.
Per Hunter, he went on to say, "He likes my style of play and that helps me a lot, gives me confidence. Because it's a long time since I've started as many games, and also played for 90 minutes, as I've done in the last three months, I feel important to the team."
With 12 goals in all competitions with four months of the season remaining, he is well on course for a career best.
"When we attack, Tata likes things to be a little more anarchic – just a little – which means that with the ball you can move away from a set position without any problems," informed Fabregas, per Lowe's report.
This could be detrimental to the team's success in the long run. But for now, the team is performing well, and Cesc Fabregas is right in the thick of the action.
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