It has been called “the most protracted transfer saga of the summer," but in truth, it’s little more than a media campaign. There’s no doubt that Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas will return to his home club Barcelona some day, but that day isn’t coming any time soon.
Of course, as an Arsenal fan I want Fabregas to stay, but I’ve tried to look at the situation objectively and can see five forces that will ensure Catalonia’s prodigal son will remain a Gunner, at least for the foreseeable future.
Listening to the constant stream of quotes emanating from Spain, it’s hard not to get slightly worried about the prospect of Cesc packing his bags, so let’s take a look at the main barriers to his return to Barcelona.
There’s a reason Barca are trying to conduct the transfer by means of modern media, and that’s simply because the club can't meet Arsenal’s valuation of Fabregas.
Despite the Gunners steadfastly refusing to negotiate, every player has a price. Sir Alex Ferguson was tempted into selling Cristiano Ronaldo for a colossal sum last summer; if Barca president Sandro Rosell rocked up at the Emirates Stadium with a similarly large cheque the story would be over.
The consensus is that Barcelona have around £40m to play with, and that’s not a figure that musters up the “offer you cannot refuse” monologue.
That’s before you consider the emergency extension of credit to the Catalan giants that was needed after the club couldn’t pay its wage bill in June.
Indeed, it could be argued that Barca don’t really want Fabregas. If they were as desperate as the club's public campaign suggests, then why did they go ahead and close a deal for Adriano? It seems the team's priorities lie elsewhere.
An audit by Deloitte revealed today that Barcelona’s debt stands at £369.5m, after making a staggering £64.36m loss last season.
So much for the consensus!
Speaking of priorities, star striker David Villa was the man Pep Guardiola wanted most this summer. The deal was done ahead of the World Cup in South Africa and follows on from last summer’s bank-breaking move to bring Zlatan Ibrahimovic to the Camp Nou in 2009.
My suspicion is that the former Valencia goal-getter was signed as a replacement for the departing Thierry Henry. Although Villa can operate effectively as a lone striker, he was arguably in his best form at the World Cup playing from the left of a three-man attack.
If we assume that Zlatan is undroppable, despite Guardiola’s mental resolve, you can’t imagine he’s signed Villa to replace the Swedish forward. Villa partnering with Ibra in a two-man attack is even more unpalatable, as it would require shackling Lionel Messi in a more traditional midfield role.
This pretty much rules out three potential positions to rotate the remaining midfielders into, and bear in mind that both Pedro and Bojan will be warming the bench and you realise Barca are well stocked in these areas.
You get the feeling it was one or the other between Villa and Fabregas this summer.
“But Fabregas would never play on the wing, so what’s your point?”
It’s a good question, and the more astute readers will probably have realised the problem it causes.
The system Barca plays requires a defensive minded midfielder to hold while two creative central players enjoy freedom to maraud forward and dictate their extended attacking passages of play.
So while Sergio Busquets is nowhere near as talented as Fabregas, Andres Iniesta, or Xavi; his place in the team is almost assured. The balance of the midfield means this role is pivotal in the chemistry of the team.
This is a point that will not escape Guardiola, as he played in the same position for Barcelona when he captained the side under Johan Cruyff.
Busquets, or an equivalent, in a three man midfield leaves only two potential places for Iniesta, Xavi, and Fabregas. Xavi will be discussed in the next slide, so let’s quickly focus on Iniesta, as he is a key component in the argument.
Iniesta is a truly wonderful midfielder; he has the balance and poise to glide past multiple markers despite being pressed and his awareness is remarkable. He is able to turn and find space from seemingly congested positions, and his movement on the edge of the box is sublime.
His quick feet are always searching for an interlinking pass that will unlock even the most impenetrable defence.
So talented is Iniesta that he is equally as devastating when deployed from the left flank as he is from a central position. This is the crux of the conundrum; before Villa was signed it could be legitimately argued that Iniesta could simply shift out to the left to accommodate Fabregas in the centre.
Villa’s signing effectively rules out this option. If Fabregas signed for Barcelona this summer, he’d be competing with Iniesta and Xavi for a spot in central midfield. He wouldn’t get into the team, no debate.
Without wanting to reiterate the argument about midfield, I feel it’s necessary to make a tangential argument about the role of Xavi.
Quite simply, he is the heartbeat of the side, and is widely recognised as one of the finest playmakers on the planet. If Guadiola is the player Cesc admired as a child, then Xavi is the man Fabregas will have to emulate in the side.
Xavi turned 30 in January, and as a player whose game doesn’t rely on pace, it could be argued that the best is yet to come. At the very least Barca fans should expect the Spaniard to be producing at his current standard for the next three seasons.
The point is not that Fabregas will never return to Barcelona, of course he will, but the timing is crucial. Why go now when Iniesta and Xavi stand in front of you? Surely it would be better to move to the Camp Nou as Xavi’s heir, not as his rival.
Would Fabregas develop more watching Xavi from the sidelines, or by continuing to improve under the tutelage of Arsene Wenger? There can only be one answer, and Cesc is perceptive enough to understand this.
Finally, it seems that Cesc has unfinished business at Arsenal. Drawing a parallel with Ronaldo’s multi-million pound move to Real Madrid, the Portuguese man was in a position where he’d won everything with Manchester United.
The same cannot be said for Fabregas; he was just making inroads into the first-team squad the last time Arsenal won a Premier League title. He couldn’t claim a medal because he hadn’t made a single first-team appearance.
There are those who argue that Wenger cannot be regarded as a true great until he guides his side to a Champions League trophy. If Wenger himself is the most acutely aware of this fact, then Fabregas must surely be the second.
If Cesc went to Barcelona now, he may well be an important part of the machine, but at Arsenal he is the heartbeat of the side. Any domestic or European success the team achieves will be down to his outstanding prowess as a footballing talent.
He needs to stay at Arsenal to truly establish himself as a powerhouse of European football, only then will he be able to march into the Camp Nou with his head held high. Otherwise he’ll slink quietly onto the substitute’s bench.
And there’s no glory in that.