But if the Premier League champions are serious about signing Fabregas from Barca, they have a funny way of showing it.
Seeing news of a relatively low bid for a first-team player at a slightly more successful club would ordinarily spark a bidding war, unless that player wants to leave, which he apparently does not.
Below is a breakdown of what has been done, what has been said, and the subsequent implications for a player who is widely regarded as one of the finest in his position.
The only thing that can be definitively concluded about Manchester United’s interest in Fabregas is that United want everyone to think they are interested in the Spaniard.
Why the club want us to think this, however, is weighted with uncertainty.
Let’s start with the facts - or rather the perceived facts:
1. Manchester United have made a £26m (30m euro) offer for Fabregas
This, in itself, is not entirely accurate, or rather unproven. What we do know is that several journalists close to United and Barcelona were briefed, at around about the same time on Monday (1:30pm), that United had made the offer.
The journalists include the likes of the Telegraph’s Mark Ogden – who famously broke Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement decision – and Guillem Balague, who is usually a reliable source. It appears that there was a briefing of some sort to selected journalists, with the express purpose of turning this interest into a newsmaker. More on that later.
There has been nothing official from either club confirming or denying an offer, and it is unlikely that this offer was a formal (i.e. written) request for Fabregas’s transfer.
What is more likely is that United have informally sounded Barcelona out, using the figure (which is low for a player like Fabregas) as a starting point for negotiations. Or, as intimated earlier, to make everyone think United are in for Fabregas.
Remember – United do not have a track record of publicly announcing or leaking interest in a player, unless the negotiations are at an advanced stage. This is, if we are to believe reports, the very start of negotiations.
2. That Arsenal have any say in whether Fabregas joins United
Many Arsenal fans would be furious if their former hero moves to United, even if via Barcelona.
As a result, some of these fans have been circulating the theory that Arsenal could somehow veto this move because they have first option on Fabregas as a result of a clause in his contract.
This clause simply means that Arsenal have a set fee agreed for Barca – understood to be £25m – that would activate a transfer if Fabregas agreed to the move. It just means Arsenal get a lower price than anyone else.
This is vital – Arsenal cannot very well re-sign Cesc against his will, and they cannot block him from joining United. If he wants to join United, he can join United.
There have also been – false – claims that Arsenal are entitled to 50% of any transfer fee. No club in their right minds would agree to such a clause if they had spent more than £5m for a player. There is probably a sell-on fee, but that would likely be linked to any profit Barca generate on Fabregas’s sale.
The reality of Fabregas’s link to his former club is that the first option dictates the minimum spend any other club would have to make to buy him. Which makes United’s £26m offer a flat minimum.
3. That Barcelona want to sell Fabregas
Barcelona would rather not sell Fabregas. Why on earth would they? It took them the best part of four years to buy him, and – despite flitting between midfield and forward positions, dependent on personnel – he is their second-most effective attacker: Fabregas was responsible for 22 Liga goals last season, hitting doubles both for goals scored and assisted.
Obviously the signing of Neymar means he is less likely to operate as a second striker, but the impending sale of Thiago Alcantra to Bayern Munich frees up space in midfield, space which will be further vacated by the fading legs of Xavi.
Fabregas was always earmarked as the long-term successor to Xavi, and it is to his credit that he has been able to operate effectively in other positions while the Spain maestro’s career winds down slowly and naturally.
He has surely increased in value since joining for – yup, you guessed it – around 30 million euros two years ago. Why on earth would Barca take a loss on a player who has, certainly in recent months, improved since joining the club?
4. That Fabregas wants to leave Barcelona
The theory that the 26-year-old wants to cut his losses with the boyhood club he moved heaven and earth to join would hold some credibility if he had been an abject failure, if he was a perennial benchwarmer at the Camp Nou.
As with many perceived 'facts', the hard evidence points to the contrary. Fabregas started 30 Liga games last season – more than any other Barcelona player. More than Xavi. More than Sergio Busquets. More than Andres Iniesta – more than Lionel Messi. Clearly he is first choice.
The theory that he is on the fringes of the Barcelona team appears to have been cooked up by parties wishing to unsettle Fabregas, using information based on his debut season, where he was often used as an impact substitute.
That first season was still fairly successful – remember that Fabregas had seen his Arsenal career somewhat disrupted by injury, so surely there could have been no better way for Barca to manage him than to use him carefully in his first season?
And since then Fabregas has gone on to be near indispensable to the club. It is Thiago that fell out of favour, and thus Thiago will be sold.
United are not a bigger draw than Barcelona - while both are clearly enormous clubs, Barca have been more successful in recent years, can pay the same if not more in wages, play the kind of football suited to Fabregas’s game, are Fabregas’s boyhood club, and are based in Spain, whose national team Fabregas plays for. In a World Cup year.
Earlier this summer Fabregas went on record to insist he would stay at Barcelona, calling reports to the contrary "absurd". Of course players make and contradict such statements all the time, but there is no clear reason why Cesc would do this.
Would he earn more at United? Probably not. Would he play more at United? Given he is more likely to pick up injuries in England, probably not. Would he win more trophies at United? With Ferguson gone, and David Moyes essentially unproven, that likelihood is by no means certain.
Would a move to United benefit him in football terms? Almost certainly not – we know whose style dominates the world game, and it is not England’s or United's.
5. That United want to sign Fabregas because they missed out on Thiago
The only thing we know about Thiago is that Bayern have made an offer, and that he wants to join them. There was no formal offer from Manchester United, and Manchester United never publicly mentioned the player until Moyes denied he was ever on their radar.
This kind of pours cold water of the theory that Thiago was number one signing – if you recall, United being linked with both players emerged at around the same time early this summer. In fact, the Fabregas reports preceded Thiago’s link. We can probably assume that Moyes was not lying about Thiago – either that, or this is a huge and potentially costly face-saving exercise. We can also assume that, unlike Thiago, there is a firmer interest in Fabregas, or at least in making a proposed move public.
After all that, we can hesitantly conclude the following:
- United want us to know that they are interested in Fabregas, who is probably not for sale at the price offered, and who probably does not want to leave
- The fee they want us to know has been offered is relatively low
- United may be using that fee as a starting point – a risky business that could start a bidding war, as Barcelona would surely want a serious return on their investment, and at less than £30m, other clubs would be interested and able
- United may be using Fabregas as a decoy for another transfer
- United may be using Fabregas to deflect fan unhappiness at their failure to land Thiago, among other reported targets
It is very difficult to say exactly what United are planning. This is, after all, the first time David Moyes has had access to a serious transfer budget, and the first time in a generation that United have entered the market without Ferguson.
But we can say that these reports should not be taken at face value – so much about it is unusual, unqualified and, well, un-United that it reeks of a rat.
And we cannot discount the outside possibility that a group of journalists working for rival agencies colluded to make this whole thing up.
You have to use personal judgement to cautiously predict what would happen next.
I would be more inclined to think United have something else – possibly something bigger – up their sleeve. Either that or this is a clumsy, risky game they are playing.
Using the information we have access to, you too can make your own minds up - because nobody, not even the closest United source, can know for sure.
Reda Maher - on Twitter @Reda_Eurosport