(by Hugo Saye)
And so begins this summerâ€™s round of the annual tradition that sees Arsenalâ€™s star man hounded by Spainâ€™s big two clubs. Speculation is rife that Cesc Fabregas will be a Barcelona player by the time the first ball is kicked in South Africa at the coming World Cup, but for now that is all it is: speculation.
Arsenal have confirmed that no offers have yet been received for their captain, although given that Spainâ€™s giants have absolutely no moral aversion whatsoever to â€˜tapping upâ€™ players (a practice that is seemingly only illegal when done by small clubs) and the authorities have equally scant inclination to stop them doing so, this means relatively little. Something about these rumours suggest they have substance.
But beyond all the gossip and the Catalan press releases, there is one thing that stands out: Arsenal deserve better from their captain. He joined Arsenal as a boy and became one of the finest midfielders in world football. This is a club that gave him the chance to play first team football with world class players at just 16 years old, a club that made him captain at 21, a club that structures their midfield around him, a club that pays him vast wages. A club whose staff and supporters have shown him nothing but adoration.
And he has always told those supporters that he is happy where he is. He has cut a frustrated figure as he has had to reiterate time and again that he is not leaving the club. So if (and I emphasise that â€˜ifâ€™) it is true that he slunk into Arsene Wengerâ€™s office yesterday to ask to be allowed his move to Barcelona it would be hugely disappointing for everyone involved.
Many would not begrudge him the move. Most Arsenal fans have always accepted that sooner or later he would return to Barcelona, his hometown club where he began his progress as a footballer. But it is the timing that rankles. This is a crucial summer for Arsenal Football Club. This season they may have been crowned Champions were it not for a freakish series of injuries, and most acknowledge that with a few tweaks and another yearâ€™s experience the team is capable of going on to big things. The last thing the club needs right now is to lose its captain, for the team to lose its pivot.
This is different from occasions when previous stars have departed. Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry, for example, were both nearing the end of their time at the top and had already given their best years to Arsenal. Fabregasâ€™ best years are to come and the London club need them to be played out at the Emirates.
Furthermore Henry and Vieira left as Arsenal were entering a transition period. Fans could accept that they didnâ€™t have many years left to pursue trophies and, having delivered many to Highbury, had earned the right to go elsewhere to win more in their twilight years. Fabregas has none of those rights. Not only is he a young man with a decade or more at the top ahead of him, but he played an entirely different role to the other two in the Arsenal transition.
Whereas Henry and Vieira could be seen as â€˜passing the batonâ€™ to the next generation, Fabregas IS the next generation. The Arsenal transition was built around him. To leave now, just as that transition is reaching its critical moments, would be to do a huge disservice to the club that made him as a player.
He is not unhappy at Arsenal, the club has done nothing to upset him. Indeed he frequently speaks of his love for the team and its supporters and has repeatedly gone above and beyond the call duty while wearing the red and white shirt, most impressively when getting up to convert a vital penalty against Barcelona recently despite having his leg broken by the offending challenge. So why leave now? With Xavi and Andres Iniesta already at the Camp Nou, why would he desert his teammates and fans when he wonâ€™t even be an automatic starter at Barcelona?
Arsenal have given him everything, and they now need him more than ever. It is obvious he loves the club and he has repeatedly stated- as often as last week- that he is happy playing there. Well this is the time for him to prove it. He needs to do what great captains do and guide his team through a difficult- not to mention critical- year or two and to future glory, then he can wave goodbye and make the inevitable return home as a true legend of the club that made him what he is. Leaving now would let a great many people down, and it always seemed that Cesc Fabregas was better than that. Certainly, Arsenal deserve better than that.
Highlights of Cesc Fabregas’s 2009/10 season can be seen here.