Back in 2003 when Arsenal swooped to take a 16-year old Cesc Fabregas away from Barcelona for free, many couldn’t have predicted it would have a major effect on the way they now do business in the transfer market, years later – and quite possibly start a new trend amongst many other clubs around Europe, in the handling of transferring youngsters.
The long drawn out pursuit by Barcelona to ‘re-sign’ Fabregas from Arsenal during every transfer window in recent memory, is as well known as it is now tiresome. His boyhood club who nurtured him from the age of 10, until he moved to north London at 16 want his return. Although he never played a first-team game in his native country, now that Fabregas has blossomed into one of today’s best midfielders, the European champions want him back – the problem is he’s now going to cost them around £40 million to do so.
Barcelona could never have predicted that Fabregas would turn into such a fine player whilst at ‘La Masia’, Barca’s famed youth academy. Although they have a habit of producing some of the finest home-grown talents football has seen, not all of their graduates ‘make it’. Some, like Fabregas, see first team opportunities limited – blocked by a current crop of established superstars, and therefore choose to take a chance elsewhere, seeking a quicker route to first team action. At his age, Fabregas was free to leave for no transfer fee which irked Barcelona at the time. As Fabregas’ stature grew, so did Barcelona’s sorrow in losing ‘one of their own’ – especially for free. With every passing season, this sorrow has turned into an obsession for Barcelona, in taking back what they see as ‘rightfully theirs’.
Amazingly, the situation has occurred already with another player. Gerard Pique, the imposing centre-back was also a graduate of ‘La Masia’ but chose to leave when Manchester United came calling – again for free, due to his age. Although he enjoyed moderate success in Manchester, he failed to establish himself as a first team regular and when Barcelona installed new coach Pep Guardiola, they ‘reclaimed’ Pique – buying him back from United for a cost of £5 million. It all looks like bad business, paying for, what was once, their own player.
When, not if, Fabregas emulates Pique and eventually moves back to Catalonia, his fee will dwarf that of his defensive compatriot. These sagas have left Barcelona slightly red-faced and, in their determination to not get stung again, has led them to come up with a new method of selling their younger players who, whilst are not yet part of any first team plans but have an itch for regular action, are deemed to have potential to great, to completely sever all ties. The recent sales of Bojan Krkic and Oriol Romeu illustrate these deals perfectly.
Bojan was such a prodigy at youth level that many have been talking about him around Europe for years and it seemed only a matter of time before he established himself in Barcelona’s first team. Things haven’t gone according to plan. After breaking through to the first team in the 2007-08 season, his career has stuttered. Progress halted by a mixture of added expectation and pressure, tactics, loss of confidence, the rise of Pedro, and the purchase of David Villa. Mostly a substitute, he looked to move on in order to realise his promised potential – however it is this potential which Barcelona are unwilling to lose completely.
They agreed to sell Bojan to Italian club Roma, where, under the guidance of new manager and former Barcelona-B team coach Luis Enrique, his transition should be easier. However, it is the complicated terms of the contract which is most interesting. They agreed to sell to Roma for a fee of €12 million, but in two seasons, ‘have’ to buy him back for an agreed fee of €13 million – but if Roma wish to keep the forward, the value of the original €12 million fee increases to €40 million. The deal could net Barcelona €40 million – or cost them €1 million.
Similar has just been concluded in the Romeu deal. Chelsea have bought the 19-year old for €5 million. However, for the first two seasons Barcelona have inserted a buy-back option which will cost them €10 million in the first, or €15 million in the second.
One wonders if we will now start to see these kinds of deals becoming more commonplace amongst other clubs. They are hybrids of loans and transfer which ensures both valuable playing time and experience for the player, whilst possibly giving the club a quick cash injection (in Bojan’s case). Most importantly of all, it ensures they shouldn’t lose a potential star, which will cost a ‘Fabregas’ to get back.
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