Early Doors

Will first refusal see Fabregas refuse to return to Arsenal?

Early Doors

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This one is going to hurt. No matter how you want to dress it up or put a positive spin on it, the sight of Cesc Fabregas representing Manchester United against Arsenal next season will mentally wound fans of the London club, some of whom seemed sure their former captain would play only for them if he ever returned to the Premier League.

Now it looks like Fabregas could return to England, but not to the Emirates Stadium, a venue where he was revered for so long having developed into one of the world's most coveted midfielders during his eight-year spell at Arsenal that began in 2003 and ran until Barca came calling in 2011.

Manchester United's chief executive Ed Woodward has departed his club's tour of Australia amid mounting media speculation that he is off to secure an agreement for Fabregas that is likely to be north of £40 million. None of this news will leave Arsenal fans feeling very good over this morning's cornflakes.

Fabregas is apparently keen to start the key matches for club and country. He has been deprived of that sensation at Barcelona (read Andy Mitten's latest blog for more on this topic). His return to his boyhood club in Catalonia has soured somewhat, and there are indications he would be open to a move elsewhere. Namely United.

He has indicated privately the prospect of a switch to Old Trafford appeals with next summer's World Cup finals looming large on the horizon. Only regular action will make him a regular with Spain. He will certainly be given scope for that under United's manager David Moyes, a coach who already appears to have seen enough of Wayne Rooney less than one month into his new job with the Premier League champions.

'How could Fabregas, our darling, our former skipper, do this to us?' some Arsenal fans will think. 'He said he would only leave Barcelona for his first true love in England, right?' The soundbites from yesteryear certainly suggested so.

"Apart from Arsenal and Barcelona, I don't see myself playing anywhere else," said Fabregas in an interview in December 2011.

"I will definitely be going back (to Arsenal) whenever I have time to watch games and to see the guys, and you never know in the future, why not?

"I hope I will stay here for a very long time, and maybe even retire here, but why not? In life, you can never say never, and if there is one place to go back to, it is Arsenal for sure."

He continued: "It was very hard, the hardest decision I have ever made, even if it was my dream to play for Barcelona.

"I'm not embarrassed to say the day I left all I could say (to the Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger) was thank you very much. I couldn't talk more. I'm not embarrassed to say I nearly cried. It was very emotional."

He could not possibly join United after such an outburst, surely? But then one rummages back into the reservoir of contradictory quotes to find this little nugget before United met Arsenal in the semi-finals of the Champions League four years ago.

"I'm a massive Man United fan. I have no problem saying United are one of the best clubs in the world, even though I want to beat them. They are the best side in the world at the moment, a top, top side and we respect them a lot."

Footballers declaring love and loyalty for a club are a bit like flaky women. If Fabregas ends up at Manchester United, it will be the equivalent of some chick declaring her undying love for you one day before winding up in bed with your worst enemy the next day.

The sight of Fabregas joining Robin van Persie in the camp of an old enemy at Old Trafford is going to sting a whole lot worse than seeing Nicklas Bendtner play for Arsenal one more time.

It is not so much Fabregas returning to England that is the problem. It focuses more on what it says about the state of Arsenal.

What Fabregas will effectively say by joining United is that he thinks he has a better chance of winning trophies under David Moyes than Arsene Wenger. Just like Van Persie last season. Just like Thierry Henry when he decided the grass was greener at Barca. Just like Samir Nasri when he was booed by some fans in a 2-0 defeat to Liverpool a couple of years ago before skipping off to Manchester City a few days later.

Arsenal struck an agreement with Barcelona over the sale of Fabregas in August 2011 that gave them first refusal on the player. But that clause is in itself meaningless if the player refuses to return. This now seems a possibility.

There will be no point in Arsenal offering the £25m buy back fee agreed with Barca if Fabregas does not want to come back.

The comfort of more money being added to Arsenal's bulging bank account by a large cut of Fabregas's sell-on fee will again dissatisfy the club's fans, who continue to be sold stories about potential targets without the promised spending spree coming to fruition.

That does not mean bids for the Liverpool forward Luis Suarez at £40m and Gonzalo Higuain, a snip at £25m from Real Madrid, will not come off, but you can understand the frustration of the fans. It continues to feel odd Wenger even contemplating such transfers.

“Fabregas has decided to stay one more year at Barcelona," said Wenger following yesterday's 7-1 friendly win over Vietnam. "He has changed his mind. I don’t know. But that’s what I have been told. We have the clause in his contract so we would be on alert but at the moment that’s not something we are after."

If Fabregas does opt for United, life will go on.

But it suddenly becomes imperative for Wenger and his board to begin sprinkling the squad with some real gold dust. A summer of significant spending promised by Ivan Gazidis, the club's chief executive, has yet to materialise. One says yet because this could yet happen. Indeed, it must happen.

At some stage, the bleeding of blue chip faces, or red in this matter, must be stemmed by ambition, and unloading heavier dollops of cash. Arsenal are too big and wealthy a concern to continue playing the victim in such scenarios. Their fans deserve better.

Desmond Kane

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