Finally, it appears to have been settled. Francesc Fábregas i Soler, to give him his full name, has been persuaded to give Arsenal another chance to keep their marriage interesting, while Arsenal will forgive the infidelity of his glances towards Barcelona, for the sake of the kids.
Sometimes, it is easy to forget that Fábregas is only 23 years old, given that he is already a World and European champion with 54 international caps, and 267 appearances for Arsenal under his belt. However, he is still young, and Arsene Wenger will no doubt have reminded him of this in convincing him to give it another year in North London, much the same as Sir Alex Ferguson did with Cristiano Ronaldo.
Fábregas, as we were constantly reminded during the close season, started his career at F.C. Barcelona’s youth academy, where he developed his passing ability and reading of game situations, in much the same way Xavi and Iniesta did before him, and Sergio Busquets has done since.
He was in the same youth team as Gerard Piqué and Lionel Messi at La Masia, and like the former, acrimoniously departed England bound when offered a professional contract a year before Barcelona could, due to different laws between the UK and Spain.
But where Piqué has since returned and significantly strengthened Barcelona’s first team, Fábregas has stayed at Arsenal, become club captain, and is the undeniable face of the club’s style of football. Culés see it almost as part of their identity now that Fábregas returns to what they feel is his rightful place at the Camp Nou, wearing Pep Guardiola’s old number 4 shirt and constructing the play.
However, Fábregas doesn’t play like Guardiola, he has developed into a more attacking player, one who plays alongside a holding midfielder, rather than as one. Last season for Arsenal, he contributed 15 league goals from midfield, even despite only playing 27 games through injuries and the occasional rest.
He plays a style which could be described as somewhere between Xavi and Iniesta, with the former’s passing and strategic ability, and getting into similar positions to the latter to use those abilities. As such, his main barrier to being as important to Barcelona as he is for Arsenal is Xavi and Iniesta.
Whether he is as good, better, or not quite as good as these two is a moot point, and arguable, but with them around, he would have to accept a place in a rotation policy when he does eventually make the move back to the Camp Nou. That may not be such a bad thing for him however, as injuries have begun to pile up through his time at Arsenal, causing him to miss several months of the last two seasons.
Arsenal’s reliance on him has led to fears of him burning out early. As such, periods of rest that are common in a rotation system may well work to his advantage, allowing him to recuperate properly between games and not allowing small niggles to develop into serious injuries, such as with his hamstring last season.
The point is that Barcelona do not need him at the moment in time. They already have two of the best players in the world in his position, they have Seydou Keita as a reliable backup, and they have many promising youngsters coming through the ranks, should there be another hole to plug.
Of much greater importance to the club right now is filling the positions of center back, where they have released Márquez and sold Chygrynskyi back to Shakhtar Donetsk, leaving them short on numbers, and in the defensive midfield slot, where Yaya Touré was sold, leaving them only Sergio Busquets.
With Sandro Rossell constantly bemoaning the financial state of the club, money may well be tight to sign new players, especially after lavishing 40 million Euros on David Villa, and reinvesting the money received from Shakhtar in buying Adriano from Sevilla. Guardiola may be forced through necessity to extend the loyalty he has previously shown to the players coming out of La Masia.
However, there appear to be no center-backs that are ready to make the step up to the first team, so Rossell may have to put his hand into his pocket and come up with a signing to work with Piqué, Puyol and Gabriel Milito, unless Eric Abidal is to be used as a central defender, as he was for France in the World Cup.
Part of the Spain Under-19 squad which finished as runners up in the European Championships this sumemr, they formed an effective partnership in the centre of midfield that was able to adapt to different game situations and gave Spain the base to impose their style on the opposition from. Both are able to work in a double pivot system, as Spain do, or in a single pivot, as Barcelona do, and both could well see much more action for the first team this year than previously.
There is little doubting that Fábregas will move back to Barcelona in the next couple of years, that Culés the world over will see it as a homecoming rather than a transfer, and that he will, in time, become an important part of their team for years to come. Right now though, his purchase would have been an extravagance the club neither seem to be able to have afforded, or accommodated in their current situation.
His return may well have led to gifted players like Romeu, Thiago and Jonathan dos Santos looking elsewhere for first team football, much like Fábregas himself did, and Barcelona definitely do not want to pay through the nose any more than they have done for products of their own academy.