In a properly bold font, Sport claimed on its website that 35,000 spectators jammed into the Camp Nou - as if that would fill it up - in order to see the official presentation of Cesc Fabregas. Sid Lowe, writing in The Guardian, claimed 20,000, but it doesn’t much matter. It’s the narrative that appears important here, the closing of a saga eight years in the making.
It would be virtually impossible to fail to be excited about Cesc’s inclusion in the squad. When taken at face value, the move makes sense: giving Cesc, one of the better midfielders in the world, time with Xavi before the latter retires and also to let Guardiola coach the kid who grew up idolizing him and dreaming of one day wearing the number 4 in blaugrana. That the transfer became a saga instead of a business transaction is everyone’s fault; now that it’s over it’s hard to imagine a world where every summer morning doesn’t include a glazed over eye rolling while perusing the day’s headlines.
Whatever your personal thoughts on Sandro Rosell, it is fairly obvious that he, sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta, and VP Josep María Bartomeu are shrewd negotiators. Given Cesc’s contract length (2015) and Arsenal’s seeming unwillingness to sell for less than €40m (or, depending on the source, the larger sum of £40m), getting a player many consider to be the best midfielder in England for, if reports are to be believed, €29m plus €6m in variables is incredible. Whatever the final numbers really end up as (the claims of Cesc paying €1m a year in salary for five years doesn’t make a whole lot of sense - are Arsenal getting €5m or is Cesc merely taking a “pay cut” that doesn’t amount to a net loss for him given Spain’s tax system?), it’s a good deal in today’s market, especially considering the premium placed on players capable of playing in the Premier League as “homegrown” talent.
Whether or not Barça can afford whatever the price really was is a different question and one that may not be answerable for a while yet. Tactically, though, there is a world of possibility that should make us all swoon. Vicente del Bosque was able to employ Fabregas as a regular substitute in the World Cup and shift his formation around to incorporate all 3 of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, and Cesc. The result turned out to be a cup-winning connection between Cesc and Iniesta. Guardiola will, no doubt, use Cesc as both a sub and a regular starter. Coupled with Alexis Sánchez’s arrival, rotations might even return to Barça. That would be shocking.
Another tactical move may be the regular rotation of Sergio Busquets and Cesc as the classic “4”, a role essentially created in the cule mind by Guardiola during his time as a player. It is, essentially and at the risk of oversimplifying, a deep-lying playmaker combined with a defensive midfielder. Cesc’s tackling ability is certainly above that of Xavi and Iniesta (who are no slouches in that category) while his passing ability has never been questioned. Adding an extra layer of depth to the entire midfield and attack gives Pep latitude with squad selections without reducing overall quality and provides cover in case of inevitable injury. It also appears to ensure that Javier Mascherano will spend the majority of the year filling in at center back, or at least the opening salvos of the campaign.
Regardless, welcome, Cesc. May your years at the club be full of success and trophies.
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