Barcelona and Fabregas underestimated Arsenal’s resolve

“I think I would like to go to Barcelona. If they want me or not is another thing. It’s what I want and what I would like.”- Cesc Fabregas, May 5 2010.

The summer’s longest transfer saga was finally resolved on Friday when Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas committed his future to Arsenal. But when Fabregas revealed his intentions to return to his boyhood club Barcelona last May he must have been quietly confident in the Spanish side’s ability to complete a transfer which both sides have been willing to happen since the start of the summer. The club’s new president Sandro Rosell has been heavily criticised for not doing enough to make the deal happen and Fabregas finally ran out of patience with Barcelona’s botched attempt to capture his signature.

In July the Catalan club lodged a £30m opening offer for the midfield maestro. This was rejected outright by the Gunners, who hit back angrily, insisting the club had no intention of discussing the potential sale of their captain and most valuable asset anytime in the near future. With Barcelona failing to make a substantial offer, and Arsenal fighting bullishly to hold onto their star man, direct dialogue between the two clubs stopped, leaving the 23-year-old in limbo.

Despite failing to increase their offer, Barcelona have spent the summer attempting to unsettle the player with a breathtaking degree of arrogance. The majority of the Barcelona squad shared their views on the transfer, lining up one after the other, presumptuously claiming it’s only a matter of time before Fabregas was back in a Barcelona shirt. Midfielder Xavi, Gerard Pique, Lionel Messi and Carles Puyol have all spoken candidly about Fabregas’ desire to return ‘home’ and his frustration at not being allowed to move clubs. For all Barcelona’s criticism of Arsenal’s handling of the transfer, it is the Catalans who failed to up their bid for the player. It was up to Barcelona to make an offer worth listening to; Arsenal didn’t want to sell and were not exactly going to start chasing the Spanish champions to make a deal happen.

How badly did Barca want to land prodigal son Fabregas anyway? More so than 2009 summer signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic whom they shelled out an astonishing €46m for plus Alexander Hleb on loan and Samuel Eto’o, who had just finished the season on 36 goals in 52 games. Or enough to make Arsenal’s No.4 the second most expensive player in the club’s history in front of striker David Villa whom they signed for £33m earlier in the summer? Obviously not. When the Spanish side target a player they usually do not take ‘no’ for an answer, yet they were rather timid in the wake of Arsenal’s determination to hang on to the player. The Gunners know that Fabregas will demand an exit sometime over the next two seasons, but they were intelligent enough in their negotiations to ensure Barcelona would have to break the bank in order to land their number one target. Barcelona were also wary of paying over the odds for a player who they claim was poached from them by Arsenal, after the Gunners exploited a loop hole in Spanish contractual law to sign him at 16.

Ultimately Barcelona may not have had the finances in place to increase their offer and meet Arsenal’s valuation. The club’s audit last month revealed they are over £369m in debt. The club recorded a loss of £60m last season and even had to take out a loan to pay their player’s wages in June. A £30m deal for Fabregas would have made him the tenth most expensive player of all time, just a million less than Manchester United splashed out on Bulgarian forward Dimitar Berbatov in 2008 and £2.5m short of the price Manchester City valued Brazilian Robinho at the same year. On paper Fabregas’ suitability to Barcelona in terms of age, quality and commitment to the club would suggest he is worth considerably more than the two players mentioned above and nearer, or above, the £40m mark would more accurately reflect his true value in today’s market. With Portuguese attacker Cristiano Ronaldo valued at an inflated £80m last summer, Arsenal knew they could deploy similar tactics used by Manchester United to delay any potential transfer. Fabregas is an Arsenal player, something which Barcelona forgot at times during the whole sorry affair. Arsenal should be commended for how they dealt with the La Liga champions underhand tactics and most importantly managing to hold onto Fabregas.

With Barcelona’s failure to complete the protracted transfer, Fabregas now finds himself at The Emirates for another season. By revealing his desire to leave, the Spaniard put all his eggs into one basket, a risky strategy in what was always going to be a difficult transfer to conclude. If it was always his dream to return to Spain then why in 2006 did he sign an EIGHT year contract committing his long-term future to the club? Fabregas no doubt signed on the dotted line because the contract included huge bonuses, a massive signing-on fee and a regular increase in wages. The club have invested heavily in Fabregas’ career and deserve more loyalty from their captain. They cannot be expected to roll over and let Barcelona come and take their best player for an unacceptable fee. Barcelona refused to pay a premium rate for one of the hottest talents in the game, forcing Fabregas to come out and end the circus by finally committing his future to the club.

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