At my girlfriend's Birthday BBQ yesterday, after spending several hours cooking/staring at the hot coal and not doing a lot of talking. I sat down next to a new found Catalan pal whom just so happens to support that wonderful institution, FC Barcelona.
Naturally, I was interested in hearing some of his comments on the tapping-up 'Ciesco' and Spain's recent World Cup win:
After quizzing him a little as to the recent behaviour of his club, he said that in his opinion it was much more a case of journalists trying to destabilise the player rather than any strategic plan by Barca. He reckoned that the press levelled leading questions seeking to invoke 'paper selling' answers about Cesc and a future with Barca, not any attempt by Barca to coerce Cesc into submitting a formal transfer request.
Regardless, aggrieved by the way Barca have handled this situation, many Arsenal fans are convinced that there's been some kind of subterfuge all along and that claims by Barca fans and alike that it's speculation, are not the truth.
Arsenal have always had a decent, if not, good working relationship with Barca and have always shown them a level of respect. Both are teams that like to play 'the beautiful game' and it was commonly believed that because of this kindred footballing ethos that there was a mutual respect that would endure - Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to be the case anymore.
Journalists have clearly played their part in 'Ciesco', as they always do but if Barca were actually playing fair, surely they would have asked their players to respect Arsenal and limit their comments about Cesc. This is usually a common decency amongst the top clubs, thus to preserve and maintain good working relations.
However, Barcelona, usually a distinguished institution, have undoubtedly dispelled that this summer.
In addition to, Barcelona's comments made by officials and players, they have also released a number of Club statements on available transfer funds and incoming transfer fees for new players, surely attempting to further influence any deal with Cesc - This would appear to be a two pronged attack; to get Cesc to hand in a transfer request and to get Arsenal to accept as lower price as possible.
It's difficult to put all this down to pure speculation or journalistic opportunism.
Barca seem to have pushed the rules to the limit, if not broken them by courting a player already contracted to another Club. However, as Wenger recently said "They [Barcelona] have certainly a case to answer but, it is always the same, how can you prove it?".
Spanish transfer tactics seem unlikely to abate, and they could become more frequent unless UEFA are forced to do something. Although any action is unlikely to be imminent, it would be interesting to see some sort of delegation from Arsenal and other big English clubs like Manchester United joining up to submit a powerful case to UEFA, in order to stop Clubs like Barca doing what they want.
I'm sure Alex Fergurson still habours resentment at the way Real Madrid lured Ronaldo away last year, despite United initially not wanting to negotiate.
Moreover, it may not be possible to prove that Spanish newspapers are in on deals or used to influence them but surely there can be something done about one club's officials and players talking about another club's players whom are under contract.
The NFL have a strict rule in place that shows it can be done effectively.
My Catalan friend also went on to mention that a lot of the 'Ciesco' has had to do with the way power went to Laporta's head before he left Barca and that there had been a huge transition regarding the Club's transfer policy during his reign.
For example, the biggest transfer before Laporta's two terms was Marc Overmars for £25m, such a high fee paid was irregular even for Barca. He did go onto mention that his successor, Rossell, is likely to be less aggressive and more concerned about resolving the clubs debt; which should be interesting in relation to 'Ciesco'.
My Catalan friend clearly got a little egotistical when he mentioned that Barca paid for 25% of Ashburton Grove, which made me laugh. He had to be reminded that despite fees for Petit, Overmars, and Silvinho being peanuts, compared to the cost of Ashburton Grove, Henry and Hleb joined us well after we built the stadium.
It could be argued that Barca fans are really developing very high opinions of themselves right now. Perhaps justly so but surely they're setting themselves up for a big fall and in a way, it could be fun to watch them tumble.
Surprisingly, the Catalan was not particularly interested in seeing Cesc Fabregas return to the 'Camp Nou'. He reckons that there is a huge 50/50 divide between Barca fans wanting Cesc, and those that don't. Those in favour of Cesc not returning, reckon that they never want players to come back after they have left because 'no player should leave Barcelona and come back'.
He also doesn't think Cesc will start games, like a lot of us, and that he will be there to cover for Xavi and replace him when he retires - We agreed that Xavi is unlikely to retire anytime soon, either.
Later in the evening the discussion was joined by another Arsenal fan that took up a more confrontational line with the Catalan. He proceeded to heat the debate claiming Catalonia was living in the past and that they should move on. This was because the Catalan claimed that he didn't really celebrate Spain winning the World Cup because he didn't feel Spanish, even-though he was reminded that half the team came from Barca, and most were Catalan.
The Arsenal fan said something like 'at the end of the day Catalans are Spanish and they should support their nation; they live in Spain, have Spanish passports and their beloved Barca play in the Spanish La Liga'. The Catalan clearly rattled, claimed that such talk was 'ignorant' and that he didn't see himself as Spanish, nor did his family and friends; and they never will.
I remember reading an article about how Spain is now turning a corner regarding relations with Catalonia and that the Spanish football team was influencing this transition. The article described how Xavi and Casillas had formed a bond whilst playing together for the Spainish national team, despite being from the contrasting Catalan and Spanish allegiances, and that this bond was helping to build bridges.
In light of the Catalan's stubborn and seemingly well supported beliefs, this bridge building still has some way to go.
... and so does the 'Ciesco'.
At the end of day, Cesc has not gone anywhere yet and from the sounds of it, the situation seems to be dieing down.
He is the Arsenal captain, we fundamentally need him and don't want to part company.
He also has five years left on his contract. Barca can't afford him, they are heavily in the red, and more importantly they don't need him. Not enough anyway to stump up the cash it will take to buy him; £50m at least.
Cesc staying at Arsenal seems to be the best scenario for all sides right now. Whether Cesc realises this or not, is another thing. I just hope he does and refrains from handing in that transfer request, at least for a year or two. If we win something with him, he may just decide to see out his contract, by then Xavi would be all but retired and then I'm sure we'll all let him go, without prejudice.