For once, the rumours linking Cesc Fabregas with a move back to England (or away from Barcelona) look to have legs.
This has been a terrible season for Barcelona. Had they won the league title on Saturday over Atletico Madrid, it would have been the most underserved title win in recent memory across any of the major leagues.
It wasn’t just that the team played poorly under Tata Martino, it’s a long-running list of errors from top to bottom. The treatment of Eric Abidal; the signing of Neymar and the intimation by then-president Sandro Rosell that the Brazilian was to usurp Lionel Messi as the club’s top dog; the subsequent investigation into Neymar’s transfer fee that led to Rosell’s resignation; the constant overlooking of a centre-back addition in favour of a forward who wasn’t actually needed; the negligence at allowing Thiago Alcantara to leave for Bayern Munich; the hiring of a manager who had little to no understanding of Barcelona as a whole and took too far a leap from the style of football on display at the Camp Nou over the past decade.
It’s natural, then, that changes are to take place. Cesc Fabregas, Alexis, Pedro, and Dani Alves have been the major names touted as departures from the club this summer.
Alves has been poor by his standards and you have to believe that he is now on the decline as a player. Alexis had a surprisingly good season, and it’s therefore odd that the club wouldn’t want to keep him, or least one of him or Pedro. And Fabregas has never looked at home at the Camp Nou. His return to Catalonia was described as a homecoming for the former Arsenal captain, but in truth Spain has just looked like an extended holiday, a familiar environment with all the necessary comforts but no match for the real thing.
A return to Arsenal doesn’t make sense for the club – at least on face value. Aaron Ramsey is a player reborn, and provided he can stay healthy for much of next season, he’ll be a pivotal figure in the centre of midfield. Jack Wilshere still has promise and could also turn a corner in the near future. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been tipped by Arsene Wenger to eventually end up in the middle of the park as opposed to on the flank. And the club have two fantastic No.10s in Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla. Not to mention the fact the team are in desperate need for a high-end holding midfielder.
The only thing fuelling a discussion of Cesc back to Arsenal is sentimentality and romance.
But that’s wrong. There is a real need for someone like Fabregas. Laid out plainly, in sports if the opportunity comes up to land a player of that quality – and Fabregas was the best midfielder in the Premier League for much of his time in this country – you take it. It’s comparable to the draft system in the US: if you’re given the number one pick, you take the best player, rather than the guy who will fill your most obvious void. Worry about that void later.
Of course, it’s not exactly the same in football. Money is involved. You would end up paying twice as much on the star player (Fabregas) and the player to fill the gap (in Arsenal’s case, a holding midfielder).
Yet people are taking on far too much of a simplistic view in the event Arsenal land Fabregas by asking where he’d play. Arsenal compete on four fronts, there’s a potential to total around 60 games over the course of the season, and last year’s title challenge was derailed by yet another injury crisis. At the time, fans bemoaned the lack of quality behind Ramsey, Ozil and Walcott. Why not cover your back by buying quality players if they become available? There’s no way it can be argued that buying a player like Fabregas would hurt Arsenal’s chances of silverware next season.
Bayern Munich have the strongest squad in Europe, quite comfortably. Their midfield consists of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Javi Martinez, Toni Kroos, Thiago Alcantara, Mario Goetze, Thomas Muller, and Philipp Lahm – and that’s excluding the natural wide players. There’s a reason they steamrolled the Bundesliga in record time and recently added the German Cup to this season’s haul. Arsenal aren’t a patch on that kind of squad, so why is there so much hesitation about building a team as good as that?
Fabregas, provided he arrives, wouldn’t play every game. Ramsey wouldn’t play every game. Nor would Wilshere or Oxlade-Chamberlain, and that’s exactly what’s needed at this club. Bayern Munich didn’t falter in the Champions League because they were running on empty. There was a lot of criticism for Pep Guardiola and the tactics used, but at no point did the problem of fatigue come up.
At roughly £32 million, Fabregas is a steal. Think about the kind of players who were recently bought for either similar money or more. Isco cost Real Madrid £26 million last summer; Asier Illarramendi was also in that ballpark. Think of the players PSG have bought, and those of Zenit. Lucas Moura £35 million, Javier Pastore £36 million, Hulk £48 million, Axel Witsel £35 million.
Fabregas will make Arsenal better. If the money is there – and we’ve long been told it is – Arsenal should do it.