Andy Mitten

Cesc set for Barca bench role

Andy Mitten

View photo

.

Sir
Alex Ferguson joked last week that he should cut his weekly press conferences
to once a month.

When
he arrived at Old Trafford, the United manager used to give his local newspaper
team news every morning. Now he sees all the media once a week, unless he
decides that he doesn't want to, like if he's irked by the reporting of a
particular incident. It's on Ferguson's terms and that's how he likes it. He
holds all the power and knows it.

When
it was pointed out that Bayern Munich have a daily press conference he laughed
away. As he would if he saw how Spanish clubs deal with the media.

I
spent Monday afternoon watching the various stages of Cesc Fabregas being
unveiled as a Barça player. The Catalans flung open the gates to Camp Nou and 25,000
showed to see Cesc say, "Hello, nice to be here".

Clubs
use these grand welcomes as a badge of honour. The 80,000 capacity Bernabéu was
full to see Cristiano Ronaldo arrive in 2009, while over 60,000 welcomed Zlatan
Ibrahimovic to Barcelona. Malaga have signed so many new big names this summer
that fans have been going to the stadium as often as in the football season. Only
there have been no games, just the sight of extremely well remunerated Dutch,
French, Spanish or Argentine nationals explaining how happy they are for ten
minutes. They are feel-good occasions for everyone and fans who couldn't
otherwise afford match tickets can be part of the club.

Following
his stadium appearance, Fabregas then spent almost an hour talking to hundreds
of assembled journalists. His extended family sat on the front two rows beaming
with pride. The whole event was televised live.

I
went to the studios of COPE radio station in Barcelona that night to be a guest
on one of nine football mad shows broadcast live from Barcelona each night. The
other journalists there travel to Barca away games with the team, something
which would make Ferguson spit his wine out if it happened here. They go to the
thrice weekly press conferences and have regular access to players after each
game. Such access is unheard of in the Premier League.

Spanish
television can be dire, but radio is hugely popular and many professional
footballers go to sleep with these shows on in the background.

Big
name stars are happy to talk for free until late in the night. And then there's
Xavi, the greatest talker in modern football, a fan as well as a player. He
went to one radio studio recently and his 15 minutes slot turned into two
hours. He was in no rush to leave. This is a man who wakes at night and wonders
about the origins of stadium names and whether 'Everton' is near Liverpool or a
part of it.

Fabregas
was the subject on Monday's show and the great and good of Spanish football all
chipped in with their opinions about where he would start in Guardiola's team,
if indeed he will start.

The
consensus was that he'll not be a 'titular' - an automatic starter - just yet.
Barça's best XI is well defined and good enough to win the European Cup with
ease. Fabregas and fellow new Alexis Sanchez will have to earn their stripes
and their minutes. They will have plenty of opportunities. Barca are going for
trophies on six fronts and will face a 10 day jet-lag-inducing trip to Yokohama
in December for the World Club Championship. They'll need plenty of players.

Fabregas
was humble when asked the same question and said: "Mentally, I feel ready
for everything. I chose the most difficult path but that can bring the greatest
joy.

"It is always a very hard challenge to come to Barcelona.
I have spent many, many hours thinking about the return to Barcelona. This is
the greatest team in the history of football."

Guardiola
knows how to rotate the team and his squad needed strengthening. Madrid's bench
was far stronger last term, not so this.

And
being a 'titular' doesn't mean you'll play every week. Sergio Busquets started
25 (the same as injured Fabregas did for Arsenal) of Barça's 38 league games
last season, Pedro just 24.

With
Xavi now 31, Fabregas is a signing for the future too. At €29 million (plus
extras) he's relatively cheap for a player of his calibre and age, though many
in Catalonia were annoyed when Arsenal snared him eight years ago for next to
nothing. Just as many Arsenal fans are now irked at losing their captain at the
start of the season.

With
Fabregas being a Barca fan, Catalan and former player who was schooled at the
club alongside many of his new team mates, his transfer back was as inevitable
as it became drawn out and tiresome. His signing makes sense for Barca, though
he shouldn't and won't expect to be the main man as he was at Arsenal.

Follow LIVE coverage of Barcelona v Real Madrid from 22:00 UK time.

View Comments