As Barcelona proceeded to crash out of the Champions League in inglorious fashion to Bayern Munich, the need for a guilty party began. The first one was a simple one: the age and wear and tear of the team. With so many players over 30 and so many injured — including Best-Player-in-the-Universe Lionel Messi — this seemed an honest, if simplistic, appraisal. Some turned to blame the interim coach, who has overseen the club while coach Tito Villanova has been undergoing cancer treatment. After all, he has overseen the club losing to Real Madrid. And some turned to blaming the players, like Alexis Sanchez, David Villa and Cesc Fabregas.
What’s been interesting from an Arsenal point of view is that, as 2013 has rolled on, the noise from people saying that Cesc is coming back to the Emirates seems to have grown. And it’s not just the desperate fantasy of fanboys and fangirls, hoping that the former captain would return from his Nou Camp sojourn. This, even though that Fabregas has stated that only he knows his immediate future and that Arsene Wenger has said no move for the former skipper is in the making.
To be fair, to the people putting forth the idea, Fabregas has been having a poor time back at the Catalan club. Moving for 30M euros to such fanfare was always going to be difficult, specially since his natural midfield spot was still being taken by Xavi Hernandez — the same Xavi that has owned that spot for a decade with Spain’s national team. While he has managed to start games, he rarely plays the entire 90 minutes of a game. He’s the third-highest scorer for Barcelona this season with 13 goals across all competitions (Messi is #1 with 58 goals and Villa is #2 with 14). This in spite of starting 37 games out of the 55 possible ones. Fabregas has found himself in the same predicament he always found himself whenever the Spaniards got together: either start as a false 9 up the pitch or sit on the bench and wait for Xavi to come off. Which is precisely what so many people predicted would happen.
What’s ironic here is that so many of the same Barcelona supporters who smugly pronounced that Fabregas was always destined to return are the same ones now turning on him, saying he’s not worthy of the blaugrana shirt and that he’s not worthy of being at the club. Considering Barcelona engaged in a protracted campaign to convince him to move — remember every one of their players talking him up in interviews? Remember the shirt stunt after the World Cup win? — it’s ironic that they’re now having buyers’ remorse over a player they worked so hard to unsettle just because he was Catalan and talented.
But bringing Cesc Fabregas back to Arsenal would seem counter-productive to me. Not because he left, mind you. I hold no anger or grudge against him (like I do against Ashley Cole or Robin van Persie). But because the club he left isn’t the club that’s heading into the summer.
For one, his position at the center of midfield now belongs to Santi Cazorla in the immediate, but will be Jack Wilshere’s for the foreseeable future. Bringing Cesc back in would necessitate moving Santi out wide and Jack back to one of the two more deep-lying midfield roles — moves which would limit/restrict the games of Cazorla and Wilshere. And that doesn’t take into account the glut of players we have that are all desperate for a role in the center of the pitch. Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Emmanuel Frimpong, Francis Coquelin, Serge Gnabry, Cazorla and Wilshere all want to play through the middle. Adding Fabregas would add more to a spot where we’re in no need of adding more.
Furthermore, in order to get the best out of Fabregas, the team needs to be built around him. This is what’s the difference between Cesc at Arsenal and Cesc at Barcelona. At Arsenal, he was the best player and everyone worked around his talents – even talented partners like van Persie, Nasri, Rosicky, etc. But Barcelona have Messi around and he’s the straw that stirs that team.
Secondly, the cost of bringing Cesc back would likely be somewhere in the 20M pounds range. Even if you consider a lower valuation now than what he was sold for, Barcelona will demand money in order to fund their big purchases for the summer — Neymar and Matt Hummels being at the top of their list. Arsenal need to buy a top striker and a defensive midfielder at least — add goalkeeper, winger, right back and center back depending on what happens this summer. Spending money on bringing a player that doesn’t solve a need is foolish.
Finally, and this one is perhaps most important, is Cesc’s health history. Or rather, lack there of. Yes, he’s only 25 but he hasn’t had a completely injury-free season since he was a young lad breaking into the first team. His best season 2009-10 ended with him watching from the sidelines as Arsenal capitulated in the title chase. He actually has not played more than 30 league games for either Arsenal or Barcelona – the bread and butter of clubs –since 2007-08. As a club, Arsenal cannot afford to have more expensive, first-team members taking up time in the physio room. A team can carry one injury-case, not multiple. Arsenal are already stocked up on them!
So do I see Cesc Fabregas coming back to Arsenal? No, I don’t. Perhaps more to the point, I don’t think the club ought to try and bring him back. This isn’t the club he left. There are needs within this Arsenal side but unless Cesc turns into a world-class striker, defensive midfielder or defender, he wouldn’t be filling them. Though I’m sure he’d be welcomed back with open arms, I think it’s best to close that door and move on.