It’s not very often that the name of Francesc ‘Cesc’ Fabregas Soler is far from the lips of any Arsenal fan. If like me, you’re a believer in Arsene Wenger and his ways, Fabregas tends to be brought up as an example of the calibre of players that Le Professeur has brought in over the years. If you’re against Arsene, then the other cheek is turned, and he’s used as an example of the calibre of players that has been shipped out over the last few years. And, if you don’t really care that much and only care for the action on the pitch, then you’re more likely just to sit back and admire this wonderful player.
However, this season (since January-ish), his name has been brought to the fore, following the stories flying around the press throughout the season suggesting that Fabregas could well return to The Emirates. I’ve deliberately refrained from calling it ‘home’, given that he’s meant to be there now, but there is certainly a homely familiarity associated with Ashburton Grove, which could naturally play into our hands. In fact, I’d be thrilled if it did, not least because it would piss off that pesky lot in Catalonia.
Whilst he didn’t succeed at first at Barcelona, there are signs that had he persisted for more time at La Masia, he could have followed in the footsteps of Xavi, Puyol and Iniesta and been thrust into the first team, as a cantenaro (a graduate from the youth system – I’ll try to not use too many annoying terms in this post, but it’s hard not to having just finished Graham Hunter’s book on Barcelona – I’d thoroughly recommend it to any football fan!). But for whatever reason, Fabregas felt that it was the right opportunity to make the move to Arsenal, who at the time were conquering England, although perhaps we should have been more prominent on the world stage too.
Immediately, it was clear that Wenger had unearthed another gem, and whilst he was still a bit rough (temperament issues and a small build were obstacles he’d have to overcome), Fabregas’ talent was clear to all. The timing of the move was perfect – Fabregas made himself popular in the 2004/05 season, filling in for various injured players (Gilberto, Edu and Vieira), but the next season would be his true breakthrough. Following his FA Cup winning penalty kick, Vieira jumped ship to join Juventus…if Twitter had existed, it would have been split into 3 camps:
1) Vieira’s gone – at least Henry’s still here, but it’ll be tough. No love lost for Vieira.
2) Vieira’s gone, thanks for the memories but it’s time to leave.
3) Never mind, there’s this wicked Spaniard called Fransesc Fabregas, and he’s totally amazing, and I’ve seen him play 10,000 times live (and I’ve even made a YouTube video of him!). He’ll be the next Deco.
Whilst definitely not the same type of player, Fabregas filled the role of Patrick Vieira for the final season at Highbury (2005/06), to mixed effect. Whilst his individual performances were good, they did leave a certain amount of pressure on Gilberto and the rest of the pretty shaky defence. A nail-biting last day 4th finish was enough to secure Champions League football for the next season, but things could have been a whole lot different…
If lasagne-gate had never happened, and Tottenham had beaten West Ham on the final day, then I’m still convinced we would have qualified for the Champions League – call me naive, but we surely would have beaten Barca in Paris if we knew that the prestige of the club depended on it? Look at Chelsea last year, and Liverpool in 2005. We had Thierry Henry, quite possibly the best player in the world at the time, Gilberto, Ashley Cole etc. (okay, so they had Ronaldinho, Eto’o etc., but I’m keeping that on the down low). Lehmann was a fool that day, but to be fair we still matched them 10 vs. 11 for a long period in the game.
Whilst all the talk before, during and after the final was centered around Henry and how he’d cope playing against his probable future employers (he’d move a year later, but there were hints that Barcelona wanted him in 2006 too), born and semi-bred in Barcelona, Fabregas took centre stage that night too, with a performance that outshone his youth, but that was ultimately in vain. A similar fate would befall Fabregas twice before his departure to Barcelona, both times with Arsenal losing comprehensively in the 2nd leg despite rousing performances in the first – always a big game player, Fabregas didn’t disappoint in the home games, but there was something about the Nou Camp that got to him (not begrudging him at all by the way!)
Since 2006, it’s been a burning desire of Fabregas’ to finally lay his hands on the Champions League, but that’s the closest he’s been. Whilst he joined Arsenal at precisely the right time, his move to Barcelona hasn’t turned out so well, but more on that later. During his time at The Emirates, Fabregas blossomed from a ‘young pretender’ into a world beater, capable of unlocking any defence, and his finishing improved such that he could either shoot himself or find one of his teammates, and either would provide a goal. Silverware came closest through the domestic cups, once in his first year at The Emirates, and once in his last – both times, we lost in the final, and despite becoming captain of the side in 2008, he never lifted a trophy with the Gunners, one of his self-confessed regrets.
In the league, Arsenal were patchy at best with Fabregas in the team, but title pushes were more evident with Cesc at the club than they have been without him, and even then they were all derailed invariably in the Spring months. Despite lots of uncertainty surrounding the club, Fabregas was one of the few to sign long term contracts, and he cited the playing style of the club, as well as Wenger as two key factors in his decision…but even still, there was a sense that he’d go back ‘home’ eventually.
In 2011, after yet another promising but unfulfilling season, Fabregas left for Barcelona – why wouldn’t he? Yes, there was the personal attraction of playing with his friends, but even without friendship, who would turn down the opportunity to play alongside Xavi, Iniesta and Lionel Messi? Guardiola, the manager at the time, was a boyhood hero of Fabregas’, and he’d been promised the coveted Number 4 shirt. Little things, but they all add up. Their success was summed up by Fabregas tweeting a photo of himself holding the Spanish Supercup…after his first game for the club. He then won the UEFA Super Cup too. By the end of the season, he had added the Copa Del Ray, as well as the 2011 FIFA Club World Cup, with a personal record of 15 goals and 20 assists. Not too shabby at all…not to mention the fact that he could add a EURO 2012 winners medal to his one from 2008, as well as the World Cup winners medal from 2010 (although the medals from 2008 and 2010 were won whilst still an Arsenal player).
Missing out on La Liga and the Champions League to Real Madrid and Chelsea respectively would have no doubt hurt Barcelona, but they were invincible right? They’d surely rectify that in 2012/13? Erm…sort of. They won La Liga comfortably, but the Champions League is still a trophy that eludes Fabregas, as they crashed out once again to the eventual winners, this time Bayern Munich. Personally it was a troublesome time for Cesc, with his place in the team being shifted around by Vilanova and Roura, as well as injury trouble. He’s talented, but as a striker? I’m not so sure.
And things are looking even less rosy for him now at Barcelona. All his career, he’d been the focal point of the Arsenal team, but when he moved to Barcelona, he became a bit part player, and despite the increased publicity, he still faces tough competition in the national side. At 26, you’d expect a player of his quality to be one of the first names on the teamsheet, but things couldn’t be further from the truth. Furthermore, if I’m not mistaken, his newly born daughter Lia lives in London, and so perhaps the emotional attachment to Barcelona isn’t so great.
And it’s not as though competition for places is getting any easier – Xavi’s getting older, but the game that they play is dictated so much by him that he can choose how fast he wants to play. Busquets looks like developing into a wonderfully gifted, if not universally hated, deep lying midfielder, and there is a feeling that Fabregas’ signing was made to provide a stopper between Xavi’s departure and Thiago’s imminent maturity (as well as being a publicity stunt for Rossell to regain the presidency of the club). Neymar’s arrival will mean that the attacking options are fewer, and besides, it would seem as though Barcelona’s reign at the top of world football could be coming to an end quite soon.
That’s where Arsenal can come in. There’s the emotional attachment there, no doubt about it. Wenger seems to think that Fabregas will return one day, and the player himself is also open to the idea. Having ruled out a move to Manchester United (HOORAY!), Arsenal are definitely in pole position should Fabregas decide to move back to Arsenal. Not only do we have first refusal on him, but we can get him for between £20-£25m, due to some oddity in his contract. There’s a crux though…do we actually want or need him?
You all know what he can do, I won’t go into his numerous qualities, but I’m certainly of the belief that one can’t have too many world class players, as long as you manage them properly. However, there is certainly something to be said about damaging the current crop of young players. It then comes down to whether you think the positives will outweigh the negatives, or whether they won’t.
Wilshere and Ramsey are the primary subjects here, although Oxlade-Chamberlain could well fall under this bracket too. Santi and Cesc together would be a dream, and you can add fellow Spaniard Arteta into that (and for good measure, his good friend Tomas Rosicky). Wilshere’s best season in an Arsenal shirt was no doubt his first breakthrough season, 2010/11 when he was in tandem with Fabregas – there’s nothing to suggest that one couldn’t rekindle that superb partnership. As for Ramsey, it remains to be seen whether or not his late season form will be continued or not, but I’ve still got faith in him, and he could become a very useful player for us.
Although we’ve changed system to accommodate the lack of Alex Song, we are still fundamentally playing in a system built around Fabregas and Nasri. Whilst the Nasri role could be filled easily by Cazorla, Rosicky or Chamberlain, there is only one person I can see filling the Fabregas role, and that is the man himself. It would mean more tweaking, but it would surely be worth it. It would also mean that a defensive midfielder in the mould of Gilberto, Song or Flamini may be needed too, but that’s probably needed anyway. We don’t always play the brand of football that caught the eye of so many back in the day, but there have been glimpses that it’s possible (if anything, I’d say it’s been a conscious decision on Wenger’s part). Fabregas’ return would not only facilitate a resurrection of the quick passing game that we thrive upon, but it would also make it a much more frightening prospect for opponents too.
That’s all I’ve got to say on the subject of this, but let me know you’re thoughts in the comments section, and vote in the poll! Hope you all have lovely weeks.