Arsenal have won the battle, but the war over Cesc Fabregas looks destined to go Barca’s way eventually.
The sense of victory in N5 will be short-lived, as Fabregas’s subsequent press release exposed the reality of the situation and left a bitter taste in the mouth of many fans.
In short, Arsenal will begin the 2010/11 season with a captain, talisman and star player who doesn’t want to be there.
Since the day he was craftily plucked from the Barca youth academy, there has been an inevitability about Fabregas’s homecoming. Every Arsenal fan knew that sooner or later, the boy from Barcelona would come full circle and make an emotional comeback to his childhood club.
After six years of sublime service, no Gooner would begrudge Fabregas a return to his beloved hometown, to rejoin his friends and family, and take his place amongst an already world-class Barcelona team.
In fact, most fans would welcome a chance to see the popular Fabregas gain some domestic silverware, after five barren years at Arsenal.
The lingering worry for Arsenal is that perhaps Fabregas is simply too good for them.
Has Arsene Wenger failed to build a squad worthy of his skipper? What must Fabregas have thought last April, sitting on the bench with a broken leg, watching his teammates stumble pitifully out of the title race?
What was going through his mind seeing his colleagues concede three goals in ten minutes to an abysmal Wigan side, slump to their first league defeat against Spurs for years, and get torn to shreds by a rampant Barca side at the Camp Nou?
Where did he want to be?
And after providing the crucial assist that won the World Cup for Spain, after lifting a consecutive international trophy surrounded by Barcelona players at the top of their game, after playing alongside born winners such as Carles Puyol, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and David Villa, did Fabregas really want to return to London to the likes of Denilson, Emmanuel Eboue and Manuel Almunia?
It is common knowledge that Fabregas was deeply disillusioned by the 2008 departure of his friends Mathieu Flamini and Aliaksandr Hleb. Despite the duo’s failure to establish themselves elsewhere, their exits showed Fabregas that Arsenal could not build on a successful squad. They were officially a selling club.
This trend has been apparent since 2005, and this is not the first time Wenger has squeezed a final season out of a reluctant captain whose head has been turned by the promise of continental glory.
Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry both gave Arsenal lacklustre swansongs, their minds elsewhere, devaluing the once-proud Gunners captaincy by demonstrating that they clearly wanted to leave.
Arsenal fans must be wondering what kind of performances Fabregas will give them this season. The man is a consummate professional, but he is also only human.
This of course begs the question as to who is responsible for this ugly situation. Perhaps Wenger would’ve been better off letting Fabregas leave this summer, but Barcelona’s offers have been frankly insulting.
For arguably the finest midfielder in the world, the man who created the goal that won the World Cup, who at only 23 years of age has surely a decade of brilliance ahead of him, Barca saw fit to offer a meagre 40m euros—less than half of the cost of preening showpony Cristiano Ronaldo.
Barca clearly prioritised the signing of David Villa, and thought they could undercut the price of Arsenal’s star player by embarking on a shameful media campaign aiming to unsettle Fabregas enough to demand a transfer and slash his value.
Wenger must be applauded for standing up to these bullying tactics, and this turn of events has revealed what we all suspected, that Barca simply cannot afford Fabregas—for now.
Next summer will almost certainly see Fabregas return to his Barcelona roots. The only question that remains is what he can do for Arsenal this season.
Wenger must ensure he gets the best out of Fabregas, whilst simultaneously grooming a new captain, possibly the committed and popular Thomas Vermaelen.
He must also find a new midfield general, hopefully in the form of the returning Aaron Ramsey, who looks most likely to live up to Fabregas’s brilliance.
The manager, players and fans all know this will be Fabregas’s final season wearing the red and white of Arsenal. The hope remains that they can pull together and finally deliver a trophy to a club starved of success.
The sight of Cesc Fabregas lifting a trophy in an Arsenal shirt for the last time would be a fitting farewell to a much-loved player.