In a recent piece on Alex Ferguson’s transfer market travails, I remarked glibly that Idaho doesn’t import potatoes. It has occurred to me since that, in all probability, it does. Not in their whole, pure form, most likely, but as fat saturated chips. Oftentimes, these salted snacks will be made from bonafide Idaho spuds chipped and fried elsewhere before being returned to their homeland for sale and consumption. All of which works, albeit somewhat convolutedly, as an analogy for Barcelona’s perpetual attempts to bring Cesc Fabregas ‘home’ to Catalonia.
The raw material that makes the Arsenal captain one of the world’s top midfield players is pure Barcelona. A product of their famous La Masia (which used to be a farm – the potato analogy works on many levels) youth academy, Fabregas is what he is largely because of Barcelona. As a result, his return to Camp Nou has been taken as inevitable ever since he rose to prominence at Arsenal.
From the Catalan perspective, as elucidated by numerous Barcelona players on an almost daily basis, Fabregas ‘has Barcelona in his blood’ and has to be allowed to ‘come home’.
On the other hand, Fabregas is Arsenal’s captain and he has done his growing up in England’s Premier League – including on the occasional rainy night in Stoke. He has been processed by the English league and hardened, perhaps, to a greater extent than have been Xavi and Iniesta in their Iberian cocoon.
Because of this, Arsenal’s outspoken set of Twittering lobbyists interpret Barcelona’s offers for Fabregas up till now as derisory and arrogant. But they make sense.
Transfer fees are always a compromise. A player who, for whatever reason (ability, length of contract or popularity with the fans), is deemed valuable by his current club will cost more than a player of apparently greater or equal ability who has been deemed expendable by his current club. This is why Andy Carroll cost Liverpool £35 Million while Inter Milan were able to pick up Wesley Sneijder for around £15 Million. Likewise, a player who is deemed absolutely necessary by a buying club will cost more than (an again roughly similar) one who was picked up because he happened to be available. This is why Tottenham will probably get around four times the amount they paid Real Madrid for Rafael van der Vaart should Luka Modric eventually complete a move to Real Madrid.
This, ultimately, is why Cesc Fabregas’s ‘inevitable’ move to Barcelona has yet to take place, and may still be ‘inevitable’ this time in 2012, 13 and 14. There will probably always be an impasse in this deal because Fabregas’s value to Arsenal currently far exceeds his Barcelona’s desire for him. Cesc Fabregas is the closest thing any other club in the world has to a Barcelona midfielder, and Arsenal aren’t going to let a treasure like that go until they absolutely have to. On top of that, Barcelona have (by definition) loads of Barcelona midfield players so why would they pay a premium for another one?
It’s a never-ending loop, which is appropriate given its annual recurrence, which can ultimately only be broken by Cesc Fabregas himself.
If he wants to go back to Barcelona, apart from going on strike or breaking his contract (both of which seem unlikely), Fabregas has, paradoxically, got no choice but to de-Barcelona himself.
In recent seasons, Barcelona have spent big money on David Villa, Javier Mascherano and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, none of whom conform to the typical model of the Barcelona footballer. Whether they buy Neymar or Alexis Sanchez this summer (or both), the same will be true of him (or them) too: expensive and atypical.
In the first half of the 2009/10 season Fabregas, liberated by Arsenal’s tactical shift (from 4-4-2 to 4-2-3-1), enjoyed a run of quite incredible goalscoring form and ended the season with 15 goals from 27 appearances (or a goal every 1.8 games). In the same season, Xavi got 3 from 34 (or 1 every 11.3 games) and Iniesta managed 1 from his 29 appearances (that’s a goal every 29 games, by the way). That is the sort of form that will force Barcelona’s hand. Unfortunately for Fabregas (possibly fortunately for Arsenal) it is also a level of outstandingness that has proved unsustainable.
For the six months or so at the beginning of that season, Fabregas was able to marry the Barcelona model of a midfield player, exemplified by the creativity and ball retention skills of the three men who keep him out of Spain’s starting line-up, to the English ideal of the goalscoring midfielder, exemplified by the Premier League golden-agersFrank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.
If he can synergize those attributes for a whole season then he has got to be worth a big Barcelona investment. Additionally, and this is probably Wenger’s thought, if he can sustain that level for a whole season then Arsenal will surely win a trophy; success would go some way to pacifying fans angered by the captain’s departure, as would the £50 Million plus that Cesc Fabregas would be worth in that situation.
On Wenger’s part this is a gamble because Fabregas’s other option is to become worse. He could de-Barcelona himself by staying injured or apathetic and force Arsenal to lower their valuation of him to a level which Barcelona are happy to pay for one of their own potatoes.