There is inherent risk in losing any ‘star’ player, especially one of Cesc Fabregas’ exceptional quality. For the past 5 years he has made the most assists of any player in any of the top 5 European leagues. Given his comparatively reduced playing time, through a combination of injuries and Arsenal’s poor record in the latter stages of certain competitions, that is a truly impressive contribution.
Since Fabregas established himself in the Arsenal midfield it is hard to remember a summer where Barcelona were not making overtures at Arsene Wenger’s protégé. Wenger continues to fight against the clutches and the lure of Cesc’s boyhood club. But with player power consistently dictating the ebb and flow of the football labour market, the move is going to happen, so why not now? Matt Law of the Daily Express suggested that if Cesc is not sold this summer, Arsenal will be in exactly the same position next year, except that Fabregas will be a year older, and have a year less on his contract, and therefore be less valuable.
To continue with the financial theme for a moment, an asset that is not performing to its full capabilities is not generating full value. If that value can be achieved through sale, then the deal must be completed. It is apparent to all that Fabregas’ heart lays elsewhere. As an injured Steven Gerrard stood with the away fans and watched Liverpool lose to Aston Villa on the final day of the season, Fabregas was posing for photos at the Spanish Grand Prix, 30 kilometres from Barcelona. So in doing the sensible thing for all parties, where does that leave Arsenal?
Arsenal possess, in Jack Wilshere, the standout English performer of last season. In the Champions League quarter final at The Emirates, against the eventual winners of the competition, Wilshere displayed the maturity and depth to his game, completing 93.5% of his passes, that has led many to insist that Fabio Capello build the England senior team around the 19 year old. With Cesc gone, Wenger will surely do the same. The departure of their captain will have consequences for Samir Nasri also. Selling a star player can turn others’ heads, make them question their own situation. Yet in the Fabregas saga Wenger has proven himself time and again to be a wily campaigner, capable of retaining his captain’s presence, if not his focus, for years after the Fabregas camp began agitating for a return to Spain. With a big earner off the wage bill, Wenger can now offer the money, and the central berth, that Nasri desires. Given that he is able to walk away on a free transfer at the end of the season, persuading him to stay should be straightforward.
Too often this debate is reduced, particularly by the recalcitrant bone heads on TalkSport, into the idea that by transferring a leading player, that club automatically becomes a ‘selling club’ never again fit to challenge for honours. Who would argue that Liverpool, following the acrimonious departure of Fernando Torres, are a club less likely to challenge for honours? They have invested the money generated in mostly sensible purchases and look a far more rounded team as a result.
And what of the impact on Wenger when his captain finally gets his wish? He has cut a forlorn, isolated figure in the Arsenal dugout in recent seasons. Perhaps this could be the proverbial monkey off his back, a relief to be shorn of the continuous question mark that hangs over his Arsenal tenure. In no longer fighting to retain one player he can focus his energies on galvanising a squad of perpetual underachievers. Players such as Robin Van Persie, surely poised to finally step up and consistently deliver on his fragile ability.
A close friend of mine, a lifelong Arsenal fan, believes that with Fabregas’ departure Van Persie will relish the responsibility and with it avoid the injuries that have plagued his career. In Fabregas’ absence at the end of last season, Van Persie was outstanding for Arsenal, scoring 18 league goals between the turn of the year and the end of the season. This came as he dropped deeper, into space vacated by Fabregas, and began to dictate games. This inclination will have to be curbed, as he is required further up the pitch, but serves to illustrate the dimension to his game that is added when shouldering greater responsibility. There is also the definite sense that last season Fabregas was used as a last resort; when Arsenal required a win late in a game, a semi-fit Cesc was thrown on to save the day, with inconsistent success. With that late to the party solution cast off, the players know that the responsibility is theirs. It’s time for Cesc Fabregas to step out, and his soon to be former colleagues to step up.