With only a year remaining on his contract, and aware of Barcelona’s interest following a failed bid in 2010, he essentially forced his repatriation to the Catalan capital, where he had trained between the ages of 10 and 16.
The Spain international had no doubt expected to be welcomed back with open arms, like a prodigal son returned to his home. After all, he and fellow La Masia graduates Gerard Pique and Lionel Messi had come through the ranks as part of a much-heralded Barcelona “B” outfit, and, for Fabregas, it must have seemed as though he was set to pick up where he’d left off upon his move to Arsenal in 2003.
It didn’t work out that way.
From the outset the then-24-year-old appeared lost in Pep Guardiola’s quick-passing, highly-disciplined setup, and, while his goals and assists combined for an impressive stat sheet, the statistics hid what was, from the very beginning, a very uncomfortable reunion.
By his second season at Camp Nou, Fabregas was a regular target of the Barcelona boo-boys. And ahead of a Champions League quarterfinal against Paris Saint-Germain, Pique shed some light on why that was.
“Here in Spain it’s always about passing the ball from one side to the other. But it’s not just passing—you have to be in the right place to receive it, and you have to develop a quick mind to see the pass, to know what you are going to do next,” he told the Telegraph.
“I can see how Cesc,” he added, “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.”
It was a not-so-veiled critique of his teammate’s lack of tactical discipline.
“If people boo me, then I will have to cope with that,” Fabregas told radio outlet Onda Cero two months later, as per the Telegraph. “If [Barcelona] said that they didn’t want me, that would be another thing.”
Twelve months on, it would appear they don’t, after all.
According to The Independent, Barcelona have made Fabregas available for £45 million this summer as part of a comprehensive squad overhaul. Luis Enrique has also replaced Gerardo Martino as manager, and the 44-year-old’s appointment means the stylistic philosophies that make Fabregas appear a square peg in a round hole will continue.
Of course, not all the midfielder’s problems can be attached to tactics and discipline. Quite the contrary. He was never in a position to succeed to begin with.
It never worked to Fabregas’ advantage that, upon his return to Camp Nou, the other-worldly trio of Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta were playing the best football of their careers.
From the get-go the ex-Arsenal skipper was a peripheral figure, and perhaps his failure to properly bed into the system came down, at least in part, to the fact that he was never going to displace one of three—particularly Xavi and Iniesta, both of whom were, and are, once-in-a-generation players.
That, combined with a perceived loss of Barcelona ideals while in the Premier League, turned what was supposed to be a happy reunion into heartbreak for the player and disappointment for the club.
And its supporters. Thus the abuse from stands.
Three years on from one transfer saga, it would appear Fabregas is on the cusp of another. Only this time it’s his club, and not he, himself, holding the metaphorical gun.