Saturday, October 8, 2022

He’s gone before his time


Most mornings Arseblog is easy to write. This morning not so much. Not because we haven’t gone through the loss of important players before but this one just seems a little different.

Most of the time Arsene lets ‘his’ players go only when he thinks it’s the right time. Thierry went to Barcelona at 29, going on 30. Vieira the same age when he was allowed to go to Juventus. And Cesc Fabregas, the kid that helped make Wenger’s mind up about Vieira, is only 24 as he heads for home. It feels too soon to me and I’m sure it does to Arsene too.

Last night Arsenal announced that we’d agreed terms with Barcelona over the sale of Cesc. He’ll have a medical today and be presented to his new (old) club. What they gain, we miss: an oustanding footballer, with drive and ambition, a player that Arsene Wenger was privately convinced would be the finest of all the players he worked with throughout his career. And he’s had some talent on his books down the years.

I don’t think anybody will miss the saga. Nobody will miss hearing from Silvio Dante about Cesc’s DNA. Nobody will miss the blanket coverage from the Spanish press. Nobody will miss the FC Barcelona officials and players talk about how they can’t talk about Cesc while talking about Cesc. Nobody will miss the misinformation and rumours.

But Arsenal Football Club will miss a player of Cesc’s calibre. And while I’m probably a little too long in the tooth for favourite players, I will miss Cesc, he was my favourite player. As I mentioned the other day, Arseblog was the first site to confirm his arrival at the club and there’s an element of symbiosis to his career progression and the growth of this site. Not that they were in any way linked, it was all just timing, but if I choose to live vicariously through a website and an excellent footballer you can’t stop me!

This summer saw a marked change in Arsenal’s stance towards selling him back to Barcelona. Last summer we were categorical from the outset, no deal would be done. This year, it was made known to Barcelona that if they provided us with a bid acceptable to us we would sell. Arsene said in the announcement of the sale:

We have been clear that we didn’t want Cesc to leave and that remains the case. However, we understand Cesc’s desire to move to his home town club and have now accepted an offer from Barcelona. We thank Cesc for his contribution at Arsenal and wish him future success.

I think everyone understands his desire to go to Barcelona. On a personal level, anyone who has lived abroad must know the lure of ‘home’, of friends and family, familiar places. None of us are immune to that on a human level. Whether you’re earning £90,000 a week or not.

On a football level – they are an incredible team who play brilliant football and who win trophies. Cesc is ambitious and wants to win things. The stark reality we face, and one that Arsene Wenger and the board must face, is that his departure suggests he feels his ambitions won’t be fulfilled at Arsenal. And if we, as fans, can bemoan the club’s lack of ambition, the lack of spending, the various issues we feel the team has, can we expect the players, the people in the very thick of it, not to feel the same?

The move, unlike the majority of protracted transfer sagas, has absolutely nothing to do with money. There are those who will tell you it was a factor, and perhaps it was in the nuts and bolts of the transfer, but not from the player’s point of view. That he will earn less at Barcelona than he did at Arsenal tells you that.

Also, do not doubt Cesc’s affection for Arsenal Football Club. He’s been with us since 2003, since he was 16 years of age, he was settled and happy in London, but wanting to leave and go to Barcelona doesn’t mean that’s changed in any way. As much as he wants to go back, his love for the club, the fans and his respect for Arsene Wenger will have made this a very difficult decision and a very difficult summer. Yes, he had a contract until 2015 but long contracts are as much for the benefit of the club as they are for the player.

The way the whole thing has played out hasn’t been to the credit of anyone, let’s be honest. Barcelona have acted appallingly, Arsenal have come across as weak-willed and I’m sure with hindsight even Cesc might have done some things differently, but what’s done is done, and Arsenal will receive somewhere in the region of £35m for our former captain.

Nowhere near as much as he’s worth, in my opinion, but that amounts to a profit of £34.5m on the player we brought to the club in 2003. A player who gave everything for us in over 300 games. A player who provided us with fantastic moments. The San Siro, that goal against Sp*rs, the captain’s reaction the day of Ramsey’s injury (the pressure penalty and Ssshhing that knobhead Pulis), the nutmeg on Robbie Savage, Pizzagate, the 19 goal season, the game against Juventus when he left Vieira on his arse and, almost embarrassed, helped up the man whose mantle had passed to him with a smile.

I was there the night he came of age in the Bernebeu against Real Madrid. The next morning the Spanish newspapers were creaming themselves over his performance and potential. And when you look at those moments you can see how much Arsenal meant to him. Look at Cesc’s goalface and tell me it didn’t. The one thing missing, of course, was trophies. Although he debuted in 2003 he wasn’t part of the Invincibles. He played in the 2005 FA Cup final and that, sadly, remained the only medal he won during his Arsenal career.

We came close, very close, to the league, especially in 2007-8. We should have won it. Circumstances went against us but failure in the run-in and the team’inability to cope with pressure/expectation would become all too familiar over the next few seasons. And here we are, our best player, the centre-piece of Arsene’s project, is gone. Not for money, not because of a falling out, but because he doesn’t think he can win things with this team. As much as his departure hurts so does the reason for it.

I am of the opinion that when you’re lucky enough to have a player of such singular quality as Cesc you ought to do what you can to make him better. You can rely on this quality to carry you along or you can make the most of it. My overriding feeling is that we haven’t made the most of it. I won’t say Arsene Wenger failed Cesc but some decisions remain strange to me.

When it was clear that Cesc and Flamini was a combination that worked brilliantly, why did we never find another player with the same qualities as Flamini? Why did we leave it so late that summer buy Xabi Alonso? When Liverpool played hardball we had no time to react. And that deal was so advanced there was genuine excitement in the Arsenal dressing room as to his imminent arrival.

No one player is more important than the team, and maybe the manager has been hamstrung in some regards, but his failure to make the most of Cesc means he’s failed the team, not the player. And Arsene is in real danger that the legacy of brilliant football and trophies stockpiled in the first half of his Arsenal career isn’t outweighed by his ability to turn a massive profit on players he brings in, polishes up and then sells off.

On top of the transfer funds he has available to him already, he’s now got £30m+ more at his disposal and it is imperative that he use that to strengthen his team. The bench at Newcastle was pretty light, it has to be said. We’ve just lost our best midfielder, our most creative player and one who could get you goals too. I’m all for sharing the burden but he must replace Cesc through the transfer market. The young talent needs experience and quality to help it blossom, he cannot make the same mistakes again.

And whatever you want to say about the behaviour of Barcelona or hungry agents, the fact that we’re dealing with this situation now, on August 15th, and not back in June or July, is down to Arsenal. Throughout we’ve held the strongest hand but, in my opinion, have mismanaged this situation (and the Nasri one) to the point where it’s affecting us on the pitch as the new season begins. Our team, our squad, is weaker than the end of last season, this has to be addressed.

I would like to see some decisive action, some real business done, and for the club to show that it has the ambition and desire to win things again. We can talk about how much we want to win but, getting down to brass tacks, we have to put our (considerable amount of) money where our mouth is. The idea of Arsene Wenger with a genuine, actual £50m+ “war chest” is ludicrous, as is the idea of him spending it, but that’s what he’s got to do.

So, we move on. The same way we did when Thierry left, the way we did when Bobby (*swoons*) left, the way we did when Paddy left, when Liam Brady left. The players come and the players go, it has always been that way, it will always be that way, but the club remains the one constant. We support the Arsenal, in sickness and in health, and all that. We’ve got a small lurgy at the moment. Let’s hope the club can apply some kind of poultice and a jar full of leeches and we come back better and stronger than ever.


And finally, after 300+ games, nearly 60 goals, more assists that any other player in Europe’s top leagues, and some fantastic moments in an Arsenal shirt, thank you Cesc, and adieu.

I hope we stuff you if we play Barcelona in the Champions League though!

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