After Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger confessed that he still holds hope that former playmaker-in-chief and resident Barcelona schemer Cesc Fabregas may one day return to the club in the future, what sort of reception would he likely get at the Emirates if this long shot deal were ever to come to fruition?
The 63-year-old boss has clearly been left deeply hurt by the departures of the likes of Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie over the course of the past few years, breaking up what at one point looked the basis of a title-challenging side. Alas, the seven-year trophy drought has continued, though, while each of the three aforementioned players looks likely to enjoy or has done already, title success since leaving the Emirates.
Wenger told reporters last week: “Fabregas was an exception, a world-class player. I’m not convinced that he will not one day come back here, because he is a real Arsenal man. He loves Arsenal, he watches every Arsenal game. But of course, Barcelona was his home town and you had to accept that that would come into it, especially with their club having the best team in the world at that time. In the next two to three years certainly not – but maybe later.”
The manner in which a player leaves a club is important these days, with former players often routinely, often puzzlingly, booed by the terraces upon their return to an old stomping ground. The viral video of the past few days carried out just prior to the Arsenal-Manchester City game at the weekend, where a handful of moronic, cretinous fans hassled Nasri and Marouane Chamakh on their way to the stadium speaks volumes for the hatred that is felt for the Frenchman.
What was also shocking, though, was that Chamakh is technically still an Arsenal player after only sealing a loan deal to West Ham until the end of the season, so to be publicly abused in such a manner is bizarre and a sad indictment of the times. Every club has its lunatic fringes, but the lack of tangible progress and silverware in recent times has led a whole generation mollycoddled on ‘The Invincibles’ to take on a vile, bitter and increasingly hysterical tone. More than any other club in the top flight, the embarrassing minority appear to target a scapegoat for their ire – Emmanuel Eboue, Nasri, Andrei Arshavin, Andre Santos and van Persie have all been targeted to varying degrees in the past and Aaron Ramsey threatens to be the latest victim. It’s a potentially poisonous envrionment for players.
The fickleness of these attacks brings into question whether they would turn on Fabregas, by all accounts a player that had returned to his ‘spiritual home’ at Barcelona. It also helped that the Catalan giants were comfortably seen as the biggest and best footballing club in the world at the time of his departure, just as they were when Thierry Henry left for the same side back in 2007, yet the cries of ‘mercenary’ levelled at van Persie and Nasri were in short supply. Perception is everything and how you conduct yourself and talk about the club after your departure will always have an impact on your legacy and the esteem in which you are held.
Nasri’s interview with The Sun before the game seemed to have little effect on his standing with the club’s fans when he painted Wenger in glowing terms, though: “If I’m here today it’s because of him. I’ll never forget what he did for me. I owe him a lot. He gave me confidence not just as a player but as a man as well. That is why I really respect him and really like him because he cared about the men, not just about the players.
“For some managers they want you to be on the pitch and that is it. For him he wants to talk to you, to know a little more about you to give you the confidence, it was like a second love for me. I played fantastic football for three years and I learned how to play at a high level with a lot of Champions League and I was always in the race for the title. And I played with great players, a great manager and it was a great experience.”
The departure of the key trio have seen Arsenal labelled a ‘selling club’, a new tag which appears to conveniently ignore that they have always carried out a similar policy right back to letting Nicolas Anelka leave for Real Madrid for £23m back in 1999. Words like ‘mercenary’ and ‘money-grabber’ are thrown at them, but Nasri has been vindicated entirely with his decision so far, winning the league last term while van Persie will likely win it this time around.
That is not to say the the France international has covered himself in glory since his departure and to an extent, he appears to revel in his pantomime-villain status amongst Arsenal fans, but there’s a degree to which disliking someone steps over the mark. Fabregas has benefited from the context that everyone always assumed that he would one day return to Barcelona having left his boyhood club in 2003 to live in England for eight years. That’s a lengthy service by any estimation, but the timing of his move saw him leave a sinking ship rather than stick around to try and steady it for a couple of more seasons. History has been kind to him in that Nasri and to a lesser extent van Persie have both copped much of the flak for very similar decisions.
Would Alex Song, for instance, be booed if he came back to the Emirates with another club? Recent history dictates yes, but only as some sort of reflex action as opposed to any pain the fans feel over his exit, with the only difference being that he wasn’t valued as highly, therefore he’s not seen as worth wasting their breath on. It just all comes across as so very bitter and Arsenal are not alone in this very modern of diseases taking root in the English game. This is not Schadenfreude, this is remorseless bullying.
There was no real need due to the inevitable nature of the move for Fabregas to leave when he was just 23, yet he did hoping to make an impression back in La Liga and secure a regular role in the Spanish national team at the same time. The 25-year-old is now a pivotal part of Tito Vilanova’s side after a ropey start to the campaign and he does still seem to retain a genuine interest in how his former club gets on, obviously helped by the ease of his exit.
The migration back to Catalunya was always forgiven as Barcelona was proudly proclaimed as his rightful home, with the narrative leaving little room to discuss the undoubted cynical motivations behind the timing of the switch. Fabregas is still held in high regard on the terraces at the Emirates and would be welcomed back with open arms by a tired and weary fan-base, but is that not more a sign of the times rather than a fair reflection of history?
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