Ever since we joined the European elite we’ve had to put up with summers worrying about whether our best players would leave – and this one looks no different.
The chatter about Cesc being bought by Barcelona has increased markedly in the past week and, as usual when players head abroad or away on international duty, it stems from ambiguous comments that add fuel to the fire.
Unfortunately Arsenal have created a problem for themselves by previously issuing denials about specific rumours. Take this one from last summer, again about Cesc: Arsenal.com story. If you deny one story, you need to deny them all otherwise people start to assume every rumour that isn’t rebutted must be true.
But really the main reason we worry is - like Anelka, Petit, Vieira, Henry and the rest of the best who have courted possible suitors during the close-season – we know one day Fabregas will want to move on to one of Spain or Italy’s giants. There’s no way we could keep him here forever unless we regularly challenge for the Champions League, particularly when the guy’s upbringing and family are so closely associated to Barca. It’s always been inevitable he will move to the Nou Camp, the question has just been whether we can win things before that happens.
I still think Cesc will be here come August
For what it’s worth, I actually believe he will stay this summer as he still wouldn’t be guaranteed a starting spot at Barca if he moved now. In a year, he will be 25 and closer to his peak while Xavi – to whose throne he appears the heir – will be 31 and surely on the slide.
If he did go, though, I don’t think anyone could blame him. He is easily our most talented player and arguably a class apart from anyone else in the squad. Why should he waste his career playing with good-excellent but not world class professionals? Would you opt for playing with Sagna or Dani Alves? Messi or Arshavin? Xavi or Song? These may be harsh comparisons and I don’t want to belittle the quality of our squad too much, but as a professional you want to be the best by playing with the best.
That isn’t to suggest it wouldn’t be devastating for us to sell our third captain in five years to a club we are meant to consider European rivals. It would hit our reputation and reinforce the idea we are still a selling club coping with the ground move debts rather than one beginning to seriously challenge for silverware again. Cesc represents Wenger’s bold ideal of implementing the Spanish/Barcelona possession-heavy approach in the English game and making it a success.
There may be a positive
But in a way that shows why selling Cesc might not be the unmitigated disaster we all assume. Our formation and approach is, essentially, designed around Fabregas – we’ve opted for keep-ball, quick midgets and a more compact three-man midfield because Cesc isn’t a power player in the usual mould of an English midfielder. In an interview with the Gooner a few weeks ago he suggested the 4-3-3 was brought in to reduce the physical toll on the central midfielders (ie him!).
I always thought our run to the 2006 Champions League Final, with Cesc usually at the heart of a 4-5-1, showed why he didn’t suit the traditional 4-4-2: he doesn’t have the raw power and bulk needed to be successful as part of a central pair. I assumed that would change as he grew in stature and stamina but instead Wenger has altered our system to give him more support and accommodate his talent. It has obvious benefits thanks to Cesc’s vision and passing ability, but the downside is you need to break new ground in playing a way that has never been attempted in the English game – and try to win things at the same time. And if Cesc gets injured it makes matters even worse as no-one can fill that void.
Selling him would at least allow us to buy a more powerful midfielder around which to build a three-man midfield or return to Wenger’s more traditional, and solid and effective, 4-4-2. That was probably what Mourinho was referring to when he said at the weekend: “Arsenal won it in an incredible way and after that they thought they could win in a different way. They cannot win it in a different way. Either they go back to where they were or they don’t do it.”