Two of the worst-kept secrets in European Football were finally confirmed yesterday when F.C. Barcelona Vice President Rafael Yuste confirmed that the club has started negotiations over the signings of its preferred transfer targets.
Rumors about Cesc Fabregas and David Villa have been irrepressible in recent years. Both were Barcelona transfer targets last summer, but their clubs refused to sell.
The players themselves have been cautious with public statements, but have insinuated that they would accept a transfer offer from the Catalan club.
Just this week, Fabregas repeated that he would only leave Arsenal to return to his boyhood club. This has been taken as a declaration of intentions by the Spanish press. Both players have fed the flame of speculation by refusing to commit themselves to their current club and by stating that they want their futures sorted before the World Cup.
According to reports, both players agreed to terms with the Barcelona last summer and are happy to maintain the deal.
The only obstacle is the determination of Valencia and Arsenal to hold on to their prized assets.
The president of the Spanish club stated last year that only a "ridiculously ridiculous" offer would be considered. Barcelona refused to pay more than 42 million Euros, and the negotiations were abandoned.
Direct qualification for next year's Champions League has helped improve the club's financial position, but a debt of 550 million Euros and an unfinished stadium require tending to. A sum similar to last summer's offer would go a long way to resolving the situation.
Arsenal, on the other hand, have no urgent need to sell. Arsene Wenger would be perfectly happy to keep his star pupil in London, but his grip on the 22 year old Catalan is not airtight.
Arsenal reportedly offered a contract extension worth 30 million pounds in February. Fabregas did not sign. The strict wage structure at Arsenal has made it difficult to hold on to its established players, and Fabregas is not the first to express frustration with the club's lack of progress.
If he is determined to move to the Camp Nou, it would be difficult to stop him. Holding a player against his will is a complicated task in the modern game. This is especially true of players who have been such great servants to their clubs as Fabregas. A prolonged and bitter confrontation would overshadow all of next season, and disrupt dressing room harmony.
Barcelona is more determined than ever to make the deals happen.
The President Joan Laporta is set to step down from the presidency after completing his second term, and personal rival Sandro Rosell is leading the polls to replace him.
Laporta's desire to steal the headlines from a man for whom he maintains a sizable grudge is one reason to complete these deals now. The post World Cup inflation of prices for players who perform well is another.
Laporta has stated unequivocally that now is the time to sign. For once the Spanish press is unanimous. These deals are imminent, they all claim. Villa may even be presented to fans before the end of the week.
To say that the repetition of the "Villa/Fabregas-to-Barcelona" stories have been mind-numbingly tiresome would be an understatement of the year. Football fans the world over will be glad they are coming to a conclusion.
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