It was the biggest transfer saga of the 2010 summer and it is bound to be once again the biggest story of the summer of 2011 in world football: Will Cesc Fabregas finally go back to his boyhood club, FC Barcelona?
There seems to be little doubt that Barcelona will indeed try and sign the Arsenal captain. Last summer, Fabregas asked Arsène Wenger to leave North London and join Barcelona, a wish that has been confirmed by Cesc's teammate, Thomas Vermaelen.
However, Barcelona understandably showed no urgency to sign Fabregas and refused to splash the amount of cash that would convince Arsenal to part ways with their captain.
Pep Guardiola's priorities lay elsewhere; Barcelona needed a world-class striker to replace the hugely ineffective Zlatan Ibrahimovic and a world-class defensive midfielder as an alternative to Sergio Busquets. With that in mind, the club spent a combined £60 million on David Villa and Javier Mascherano.
Meanwhile, the club refused to spend that much on Fabregas, which proved to be an excellent decision.
Fabregas is a top-quality midfielder and definitely has "Barca DNA," having spent most of his career as a youth at La Masia playing alongside Lionel Messi and Gerard Piqué, but there's no room for him in Barcelona's starting 11.
It's nothing to do with him, really—Xavi and Iniesta are just that good. As long as the two Ballon d'Or finalists remain at the top of their games, they have their places pretty much locked up. It would have made no sense to splash £50-60 million on a squad player.
This season has been proving that there was no need to sign Cesc. Barcelona currently lead La Liga, are very likely to win their third consecutive title and are favorites in the Copa del Rey and the Champions League. It seems pretty much a given that the blaugrana outfit will collect at least one—if not more—piece of silverware come the end of the season.
Meanwhile, Cesc's production at Arsenal has been far from great. His game seems to have stagnated.
Besides, he's about to turn 24 and still has no major club trophies to his name. Moving to a Barcelona side that is making history with each passing day would almost guarantee trophies. It's not difficult to understand why Cesc wants to come back—not only is he a culé at heart, but, as every top player does, he wants honors.
But should Barcelona really sign him this summer?
Cesc Fabregas and FC Barcelona are a match made in heaven at first sight. As has been often pointed out, Cesc has "Barca DNA".
Xavi Hernandez, the legendary Barcelona and Spain midfielder, will turn 32 during the 2011-2012 season and he could use some rest. Pep Guardiola has already accepted that; as great as Xavi is, he's not eternal.
Cesc does seem an obvious answer to this problem, as he has all the skills of the typical Barcelona midfielder, but it's highly doubtful that he is the best solution.
First of all, he has been at Arsenal for seven years. He has been living the past seven years in a culture of excuses, with a club on which there seems to be no pressure to win.
While there might be no pressure to deliver at a second-rate club like Arsenal, the story is very different in Catalunya.
The manager and the players are under constant pressure to win trophies and heads usually start rolling when said trophies don't come. No one cares about the referee, injuries or the pitch; at Barcelona, the only thing that matters is winning, and even more so now that the club have assembled arguably the best squad in their illustrious history.
They won't want to miss the opportunity to add more trophies to their museum.
The core of the squad is made of La Masia youth products and proven winners—world-class players with an indisputable winning mentality. Fabregas has never shown that mentality.
In fact, his recent behaviour in the Champions League second leg against Barcelona was nothing short of shocking. According to reports, he was injured after 15 minutes, but he did not tell his manager.
Now, everyone knows how much that match meant for Cesc, but that is no excuse for hiding his injured condition and willingly sabotaging his own team.
Playing through injury is not "heroic"—it's just stupid. Fabregas' most significant contribution during the match was his assist to Barcelona's first goal (not to mention that he seemed to be smiling after Messi scored Barcelona's third goal).
Regardless of whether he was really smiling, his highly unprofessional attitude is certainly not what you expect from a player who aspires to represent Barcelona. It's hard to imagine Messi, Xavi or Puyol ever pulling a similar stunt. Fabregas doesn't even look like a La Masia boy anymore.
Spending £50 million on Fabregas seems completely unnecessary. Expensive squad players can be very useful sometimes (see: Mascherano), but £50 million is just too much, especially considering that there are other areas that Barcelona need to address—namely their lack of defensive depth.
Barcelona have the answer to Xavi's inevitable aging within their own ranks.
Thiago Alcantara will be promoted to the first team next season and he should be given opportunities to develop his game. Same with Jonathan dos Santos.
Why exactly should the development of those loyal, promising youngsters be set back by the arrival of another La Masia product who chose to desert the club seven years ago? Players like Alcantara and dos Santos are more than capable of running Barcelona's midfield.
Fabregas loves Barcelona and obviously wants to play at Camp Nou, but what has he done to deserve such an honour? Buying him back might even set a dangerous precedent, as youngsters might feel that they can leave whenever they want because Barcelona will eventually splash the cash to buy them back.
Ultimately, the decision lies with Guardiola and the Barcelona board, and we'll probably see Fabregas wear the famous No. 4 very soon. Whether or not this will prove to be a good decision for Barcelona remains to be seen.