Yes, Francesc “Cesc” Fàbregas Soler turns 36 today, and it would be hard to name a player who provokes more ambivalence and more acrimony than this former player and would-be legend. There are still legions of fans who name him as their favorite, their reason for deciding to support this club, their talisman. There are just as many if not more who want nothing more than to never hear his name ever again. As this post’s title suggests, I’m closer to the latter than the former.
Let’s enter the TARDIS and go way back to the 2009-10 season. In the Prem, Fàbregas had delivered 15 goals and 15 assists and looked to be hitting his prime at just the right time. Van Persie, meanwhile struggled with injuries, played in just 16 Prem matches, but found enough time to contribute nine goals and seven assists. There was reason to believe that a fully fit van Persie and an in-form Fàbregas would positively erupt in the 2010-11 season. Instead, as Fàbregas flirted with a move to Barcelona, his numbers slumped somewhat: three goals and 13 assists. Not bad, but a bit of a slowdown. Van Persie, by contrast, continued to plumb his depths, playing 25 matches and getting 18 goals and seven assists. If he had been playing alongside a fully-invested Fàbregas, who knows what he could have achieved?
Instead, Fàbregas sandbagged it through that season and forced his way out of London, in his prime, and flitted off to Barcelona, and for what? Yes, he scored some goals, and, yes, he won some silverware, but he was only ever a bolt-on part, a hood ornament. He had to know that his return to his “boyhood club” would be difficult; he had to know that he had next to no chance of supplanting Xavi, Iniesta, or Busquets—indeed, he didn’t. For the most part, he was slotted in here and there as an accessory. Had he stayed at Arsenal, he would have continued to grow and evolve and flourish. He could have become legend.
He traded all of that for a fat wage-packet and a few trophies. Hell, Alex Song did as much.
By doing so, he pulled the rug out from under Wenger, who had been building a squad around him, who had made him captain,who had grand visions of what such a squad could achieve. His season-long flirtation and eventual departure didn’t just deprive us of one of the best players we’d had since the Invincibles. It confirmed our status as a selling club with no ambition. It discouraged transfer-targets from joining. It convinced others in the squad to leave. Whom might we have signed had Fàbregas committed himself to the club? A few names come to mind: Hazard. Benzema. That other Touré. Mascherano. We were heavily linked to all of them and more, but uncertainty around the club’s ambitions, fueled by Fàbregas’s flirtations with Barça, scotched them all.
Some still claim we should have welcomed back after that return to his boyhood club lost its allure after a grand total of three years. Yes, we had that buy-back clause, but we also had healthy Wilshere, Welsh Jesus, Alexis, Özil, Cazorla, Arteta and Rosický? Why welcome back a player who had jilted us to thoroughly?
I’ll go out on a limb. I blame Fàbregas for putting us in the predicament we’d found ourselves in ever since he left. There was a vision of Arsenal. He ruined it. Maybe there’s something cosmic in the notion that Arteta, signed the same summer that Fàbregas set sail, might restore us to our former glory, the same glory Fàbregas could have led us to. He’d have a statue outside the Emirates. He’d be mentioned in the same breath as Henry and Bergkamp and Vieira instead of Cole, Nasri, and van Persie.
Happy birthday, Cesc. I hope you get what you wanted.