In Defence of Cesc Fabregas

And so one of the most exhausting transfer sagas in recent memory finally draws to a close, and the world of football can heave a sigh of relief and get back to pouring over other unsubstantiated rumours. But the key to this particular drama was precisely its length. It didn’t start in 2011, or even in 2008. It started in 2003.

doing the time warp

On the face of it, losing a player for peanuts at the age of 16 and buying him ‘back’ at the age of 24 for almost 40 million euros seems rather silly. And on that view it undoubtedly is. But consider the following. Firstly, people like to talk about Fabregas having been made in La Masia, but let’s be honest: the kid who left all those years ago bears very little resemblance to the young man of today, 300+ appearances for a top Premier League club later. All that experience – which he would not have gained had he stayed, with the likes of Deco, Xavi and Iniesta ahead of him – has made him into one of the top midfielders in the world, fitness permitting. That’s what we’re buying.

Secondly, let’s discuss the logic of holding the actions (or inaction) of a past Barca regime against the choices of the present. In 2003, just as a number of factors governed Fabregas’ decision (more on that below), the position of the club must also be considered in its context. Legally, they had their hands tied due to loopholes in the law governing the transfer of young players.

Policy-wise, and this is our own fault, the value attached to and the amount of faith shown in home-grown talent wasn’t enough. (Given the state of the club at the time, focusing on short-term solutions must have seemed an operational imperative.) The likes of Xavi and Pique have repeated confirmed this view in interviews, while asserting that this fault has been remedied under Guardiola’s reign. Witness the speed at which promising canteranos are offered contracts these days, and the extensive use of buy-back clauses for player sales. The current regime has already learned from the mistakes of the past. It makes no sense to let the existence of those mistakes keep us from making the most logical move in the present.

Which brings me onto my third point. I propose a thought experiment. How would you react if Barca were buying a midfielder exactly like Fabregas, but without the La Masia background, at the same price? (Not buying a midfielder at all, as some – including me – would have preferred, is not an option, due to the assessment of need by our technical staff.) So he’d be just as good, just as experienced, and just as young. Not that you could easily find such a player around, but let’s press on.

Given current market prices, I can’t see this hypothetical player costing any less than Fabregas. Except that this hypothetical player would be far more of a risky purchase, especially if the goal was to ensure the midfield succession. We would have no inkling whether he could fit in, both as a person and in terms of tactics. And now back to the actual player we have. Who, by virtue of his experiences, is far less of a risk, and pays for his worth in proven ability. So why hold his past against him?

football-playing robots

Cesc Fabregas left Barca because he saw no open path into the first team, which was a correct assessment in the prevailing circumstances. As discussed above, the technical regime in place at the time had somewhat different priorities than nurturing talent from scratch, and even back then Fabregas had his path blocked by not only successful canteranos but also ready-made signings. Arsenal offered him a fast track into the first team – and even the starting XI – of a top club competing regularly for trophies.

In moving to Arsenal, Fabregas made a logical, career-advancing choice. It was very risky – when young players move countries there tend to be 10 failures for every success story – and it’s to his credit that he overcame the early obstacles and made a name for himself.

People make these choices every single day in normal professions. In fact, we’re expected to be upwardly mobile, especially while young and brimming with potential. But football isn’t a normal industry. The entire spectacle of the game wouldn’t be nearly as seductive if it were more logical. Sure, some footballers go about it like any other job, chasing the highest paycheck while they can and leaving their fan side behind closed doors. But if the profession were populated by football-playing robots programmed to seek the highest bidder, then the one-club men we admire so much wouldn’t exist, and no one would ever make illogical-seeming moves for emotional reasons. I for one think the game would be much poorer for it.

During these past 8 years, Fabregas formed a strong bond with Arsenal, its fans, his fellow players, and above all with his mentor Arsene Wenger. He has been a major part of their history, and even though glory has remained tantalisingly out of their reach these past 6 years, the mark he has left will not easily fade away. Much of his frustrating behaviour over the course of this transfer saga can be explained by the depth of this connection. That’s why he allowed himself to be convinced to remain last season. (That, and Barca’s refusal to pay up. But we’re not discussing the many mistakes our club have made during the course of this saga. That’s a subject for a different post.)

“Cesc loves this club deeply and he loves BarΓ§a deeply too. An honest player can love two clubs. But he cares deeply about this club and that is why I hope we can keep him.” – Arsene Wenger, a week ago

Fabregas has never made a secret of his Cule side. In this, nobody can accuse him of being deceptive. He has, in the past, become somewhat defensive when questioned about his decision to move to Arsenal – after all, why did he have to continuously justify himself when he’s been such a success in the Premier League? It’s not like Barca have ever valued him, right? However, the introduction of two new variables changed the landscape. The first is the return of Pep Guardiola to Barca. As we have now seen, for whatever reason, Pep has long been determined to make Cesc part of his Barca project. The second factor was perfectly put by Sid Lowe, so I’ll just quote him:

…it is no good being a team for the future; tomorrow never comes. And that is something that has come to obsess him. Cesc himself said: “Sometimes it feels like we [Arsenal] are always saying to the fans ‘next year we’ll be great, next year we’ll do it’ and they don’t like that and nor do I. You have to win.”

And that was four years ago.

Some have accused him of hypocrisy because of his reluctance to publicly agitate for a move. I agree that the appearance of indecision doesn’t reflect particularly well on him, and in the end probably hurt all 3 parties. We could fault him for that, but I find it difficult to fault his reasons. Even after making up his mind to go (which I think happened earlier than most people imagine this year), Fabregas could never bring himself to rebel against Arsenal. In this, as in the decision to initiate a move back to Catalunya, his reasons were not only logical, but emotional. If he were a football-playing robot, this saga might have been resolved years ago. But he’s not.

Then again, a football-playing robot wouldn’t have spent years becoming increasingly fixated on a move back to his hometown club in the first place. If he had been more open to the possibility of a move elsewhere, it would no doubt have materialized. Midfield schemers are in demand these days, as we have seen in the current transfer market. Instead, Barca put pressure on him to bring the parties closer to a deal by making financial concessions. No matter which numbers you believe, everyone seems to agree that he has indeed done so. We can argue about whether or not he’d really be out of pocket due to differences in tax law, but I think it’s fairly safe to say he has not made the career move which would maximize his earning potential.

None of the parties to this saga could be accused of behaving in the most rational manner. Now that it has finally been concluded, it would benefit all parties to move on as swiftly as possible. In our case, that means measuring Fabregas against the same ridiculously high standards we’d use for any expensive new signing. He’s going to have to do a lot to convince some people. But as an investment for the future, he’s got time to do it in.

All cold reasoning aside, it’s really nice to see the spine of La Masia’s class of 87 back together again. They were always going to be the future of Barca. And now they are.

[I know most of you won’t need this reminder, but as it is a very controversial issue even amongst Cules, please remember to keep it civil in the comments.]

Categorized as Thoughts

By Linda

20-something Chinese Kiwi Barrister. Enjoys short walks on the beach, Argentinian players and Pep Guardiola. @blackwhitengrey for hot takes on all three.


  1. It is already too late. It is all over the internet: DAvid Villa is a insulter of islam. As a German I also attend the german football blogs and was fighting a lonely fight there, bringing arguments, pointing out that there are no sources, linking the things from barcastuff, to no avail, In Germany now Γ–zil did defend his religion against Villa.

    And like somebody pointed out for us this might be a minor talking point but in countries where religion has a bigger importance this could become a real problem.

    the club should make an official statement to say what happened and what not not only to proctect itself, but even more the player

    1. it is too late, I agree. David Villa is an insulter of Islam, and there’s nothing you can do to change people’s mind, unless maybe Mesut Ozil/Real Madrid come out and make an official statement. that’s the only way.

      And like somebody pointed out for us this might be a minor talking point but in countries where religion has a bigger importance this could become a real problem.

      true. I understand that in many countries, religion is a minor talking point. well, it’s not the same in my country.

  2. Why does Alexis have his socks rolled all the way up?!? LOL! That boy needs help dressing himself.

    I already suspected that he has no fashion sense at all ever since I saw his dressing style for the presentation on the 1st day. He really looks like a country boy πŸ™‚

  3. Guys a few days ago there was a photo of the fracas at the end of the match showing Kaka just standing there far far away. I don’t remember where I saw it. If somebody has a link, please share it with me.

    And did Gerry Armstrong and Guillem have a post match video or not?
    Would love to hear their take on the match and the drama.

    Where is Jnice?

    1. Sorry. The Pepe pushing incident happened at 1.05min. I think it was Keita. Strange that Pepe didn’t react violently and I didn’t expect Keita to be that strong πŸ˜†

    2. The video is a play by play of the fight.

      I think it might have been Keita who pushed Pepe but it happens so fast it’s hard to be sure. It looks like Messi was trying to help Cesc up while he was being trampled. Iniesta, Villa, Mascherano, and Busquets saw what the useless one did to Tito so they get more riled up and the melee continues. Commentator says Pepe tried to force Cesc to get up and in the middle of the spectacle Cesc gets stepped on. The commentator says Ozil bumped into Valdes and that caused Villa to push Ozil, Ozil pushed back, and Villa slaps Ozil and more drama starts.

    3. Thanks for the Kaka photo!
      Kaka was wondering his luck. Finally he got some minutes but then his team mates get into a brawl. He probably didn’t even break a sweat.

      It was definitely Keita who pushed Pepe.
      This video is clearer and doesn’t lag.

      Pause at 1.17min. It was definitely Keita.
      And you are right. Pepe tried to pull Cesc up.
      That is why Keita pushed him away.
      But I am really surprised that Pepe didn’t retaliate.

  4. I laughed at this comment on that Fabregas best midfielder to have played in the English league article that someone posted.

    Cesc, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Fab-reg-gas: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Fab. Re. Gas.. He was Fran, plain Fran, in the morning, standing five feet ten in one sock. He was Fabregas at the training ground. But in my arms he was always Cesc.

    1. That’s from of my most favourite books of all time

      Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.

    2. Yeah I know, it’s also one of my all time favorites. That’s why I found the comment funny, it was funny considering the whole Wenger covets Fabregas ‘I love him and he will stay’ etc all that stuff.

  5. Has anybody information regarding the following:

    apparently El Mundo has run a story in which they say that Pep insulted the Real Madrid bench (before the Marcelo incident) and Tito as well. I find that very hard to believe, even more so as El Mundo has the same publisher as Marca.

    Can anyone shed any light on this?

    1. Dont you have anything better to spend your time with?

      Four days after the game and still talking about the shit madrid spreads to the press instead of the football we kicked their asses with.

    2. Actually El Mundo is after El Pais the most respected newspaper in Spain, and that is the reason why I am so interested to know more abot

    3. Looked it up. It isn’t a report by El Mundo, per se, but a blog post by one of the bloggers at El Mundo’s online site. I haven’t heard of such an incident elsewhere, and the writer doesn’t really give sources.

      Also, the whole piece in general is purposefully trying to paint Guardiola in a bad light, referring to the “puto jefe” press conference as “the most petulant press conference in the history of the Bernabeu”. A simple report on facts this is not, so take it in that context.

    4. Thanks Jose,

      That is what I suspected, as it was nowwhere in the other media, but good to have a confirmation

    5. Apparently Pep said you are a fucking gang. I think he wwas referring to the Barca team than RM. He has used similar sounding phrases before. Whenever the team does something extraordinary he celebrates in a similar fashion. It is against his normal behaviour to say something to the opposite bench in a live match. It is more a Mourinho phenomenon.

  6. Just came back from a trip to Tarragona – it’s always fun to watch the castellers. πŸ˜€

    I’ve always been a big fan of Cesc, but didn’t think he’d return to Barca until his Arsenal contract was near expiration. I love his impact on the Spanish NT though, his jersey is the one I wore for WC2010. He was such a great sub in 2008 that he was even listed on the team of the tournament!

    OT: will Valencia even have time to replace Mata if he goes to Chelsea? I really hope they don’t just use the money to cover their debt and what’s happening with their future stadium.

    1. They do have a bunch of great attacking alternatives even aside from Mata- Piatti and Parejo were brought in this transfer window to add to an already very deep squad in terms of attacking options- but I would love them to remain intact and see all that talent play with Mata and Banega, not in place of one of the two who gets sold.

    2. Same here – maintaining the same strength as last year won’t guarantee their third place. Malaga has strengthened considerably and Villarreal kept both Rossi and Nilmar.

    3. If Villareal don’t win their Champions League qualification, they may lose one or both, as those players will want big-game time.

  7. Fascinating article on football (!) from El Pais today.

    In Spanish, but the gist is that a) some of Madrid’s players are upset with Mourinho’s use of Coentrao as a central midfielder instead of a winger, believing it cost them the match, b) these players are happy with Mou’s defensive plan and c) take issue with Mourinho’s attacking instructions.

    I will translate some of the last two paragraphs, which focus on the second and third points, let me know if anybody is interested in the first. Again, these are from El Pais, and the article is written based off of an unattributed source in the Real Madrid squad.

    Before the home leg, Mourinho had doubts about Barca’s physical conditioning. Seeing that their rival could not handle the rhythm of the match, the coach ordered his players to press higher than ever before at the Camp Nou. To that point, the plan was perfect. Problems started when Madrid actually got the ball. “We were too sparse in the attack,” said a Madrid player, “Mourinho (el mister) told us to elaborate our attacks as little as possible. But we should have made more touches, looking for the inside pass and run less across the flanks. In the home leg, our chances came from crosses into the center. Of the four goals we scored against Barca, the only one that didn’t come from a corner was Ozil’s at the Bernabeu. And that’s because we always got ahead of ourselves (precipitamos), not because we lacked quality.”

    Mourinho has demanded that his teams finish their plays ever since he arrived at Madrid. Against Barca, that demand is particularly extreme (demanding) because Guardiola’s team is especially dangerous for its capacity for team defense and for the speed of its linkup play. With long balls, divided, begun by Casillas goal kicks and with attacking plays usually having less than four passes, Mourinho is trying to avoid losses of possession that compromise the defensive organization and facilitates the Barca counterattack. With the ball, Mourinho has asked his players to be vertical, synthetic. Without the ball, he commanded them to be “hard”. As in the Copa del Rey, in the Supercopa Mourinho reminded his team that Spanish refs fold easy (literally, “get wrinkled). That, when it comes to Madrid, they are late with the first yellow card. And, only with great difficulty, do they send off.

    1. Please give us translation of the first part too, Jose.

      Thanks very much. Really appreciate this. Nice to read something from their perspective of their own play.

    2. The first part is much longer, so I’ll translate the paragraphs that have the bulk of the quotes. The other paragraphs reiterate these points, and give some statistical backing.

      “The change of Coentrao to a central midfielder, in place of Khedira, was a gift to Barcelona”, commented a member of the Camp Nou expedition. “In central midfield, Coentrao gets lost, as much in attack as in defense,” said a squadmate. “Making him play there is a problem because it is not his place.” A third member of the Madrid squad pointed to what half the squad opines: “In the third goal, Coentrao, who thinks like a winger, just watches Messi when a central midfielder should know to close him down and, if that fails, resort to cutting off the passing lane. It’s not [Coentrap’s] fault. But he just does not grasp the concepts of the position.”

      According to the players interviewed, in the dressing room there is a growing suspicion that Mourinho needed to demonstrate that the 30 million euro invested in the left winger have been well spent. This motivated that, first, Coentrao occupied Marcelo’s place in the wing, a specialty which he himself admitted to being a neophyte in this summer.

    3. Please give us translation of the first part too, Jose.

      Yup, that’s me… Jose, siempre el traductor πŸ™

  8. OMG. Arsenal lost 2-0 to Liverpool at home. Hopefully it is not too late for Wenger to change his mind to sign big name players rather than doing good in the beginning of the season only to falter and the end when it is too late to address the issues.

    I really wish we could sign Vermaelen next season or the season after.
    I always like him. Him being an ex-Ajax player gave him that extra 20%.

    1. Really. After Cesc, Hleb, Henry you really want it(winks wickedly)?I mean seriously that team is in tatters. The rock of their defense is Verma and if you remove him they are as good as bust. And the amount of negative press Barca have because of their transfer aggressionS is huge. I hope no more controversial transfers for now.

    2. Didn’t watch the game. I don’t know whether to be happy for Liverpool or sad for Arsenal. I like both teams, but I suspect watching Arsenal this year will be painful. Spend some freaking money, Wenger!

    3. Pool strengthened their squad considerably over the summer whereas its the opposite for Arsenal. Next up, Udinese and ManU. Wenger’s era on its last legs?

    4. Wenger’s contract runs out next year, and he’s recently been quoted as saying that this is his last year at Arsenal.

  9. Graham Hunter weighs in on Cesc Fabregas:

    If you can find it in your heart to feel sorry for this vastly wealthy young man then the reason to do so is that his development, which admittedly was accelerated at Highbury, has been stunted by Arsenal’s decline and its inability to keep its prize asset, its wonderfully talented captain, properly fit for more than a few weeks at a time in recent years.

    Read more:

    1. He made a rookie error. When you make a clearance, you do not boot it into an area full of people. You choose an empty space and clobber the ball into that direction.

      At least that’s what I’ve been taught..

    2. Couldn’t watch the match unfortunately. My cable operator decided that besides the ongoing test series, classic cricket matches on cricket channels should take precedence over live football.

  10. But why does he need a defense at all? He was for years the best midfielder in England, he is probably after Xavi and Iniesta the best central midfielder to have, why should there be a defense because we bought him? He played once upon a time in our youth team. Fantastic..but his game is much more direct than just being what he had from us. He grew as a person and as a player in England under Wenger and that’s something we couldn’t have provided him. I mean, really this whole thing about us paying for our own youth player is ridiculously rubbish. We got a great player for a bargain price. Instead of being happy, we still have to argue how that makes sense.

  11. I wonder if there’s ever been a more unlucky team than this Arsenal. The season has barely started and already they’ve lost most of their squad to injury and suspension.

    That match against Liverpool was just a series of unfortunate events. They lost another defender (Koscielny), had a man sent off and scored an own goal. To top all of that off, they’re heading to Old Trafford next.

    I really, really don’t like Arsenal (they rank slightly below the Pericos on my hate list), but you can’t help but feel sorry for them sometimes.

  12. A schadenfreude post might be in order here after the Ignasi Miquel/Aaron Ramsey own goal incident

  13. New post is up about the LFP strike, mostly because this sucker is turning into a monster, but also to answer some questions about why we aren’t seeing footy this weekend.

  14. Cesc has come and at a tough time. If he had stayed at Arsenal, he would be putting his depression and arrogance towards Arsenal. I am glad that he has moved simply because the people including I would not like to see another season with the same saga going around that he wants to move. We have got him cheap at around 29 million plus add ons. I hope now that our defense can be strong enough to win another La Liga title and possibly another UEFA Champions League title so that we can get a CB to help us in the future. At the moment Puyol is getting more and more injuries and probably won’t feature much this season. We cannot always rely on Mascherano or Abidal to cover up especially if it is against diificult teams like Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Chelsea e.t.c. I was pleased that he played very well in the SuperCopa on Thursday and I hope him all the best this season and throughout the upcoming days.

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