After Barcelona, Has Cesc Fabregas Played His Last Game for Arsenal?
On Wednesday night Cesc Fabregas broke his leg in Arsenal's 2-2 draw with Barcelona at the Emirates. He has been ruled out for the rest of the season and is now a major doubt for Spain in the World Cup. But has he played his last game for Arsenal?
Speculation linking Fabregas with a move back to Barcelona has been doing the rounds for the last couple of seasons. With the club's presidential elections this summer, that prospective transfer has become one of the major talking points of respective campaigns as each delegate cites Cesc as the player they would most likely sign first.
Earlier this year, Cadena SER, the largest radio station in Spain made claims that Arsenal and Barcelona had already agreed terms on a summer move for the midfielder. Both clubs moved extremely quickly to distance themselves from such speculation, but as everyone knows, transfers involving Spanish teams like Real Madrid and Barcelona are rarely straightforward and are more often than not played out in the media.
Fabregas has made no secret of his desire to return to Catalunya one day, and there is a growing clamour in Barcelona for him to link up with their famous "Class of '87" team.
As a youth, Fabregas was the linchpin to what many reckon is Barcelona's greatest ever youth side. Teaming with the likes of Gerard Pique, Lionel Messi, Marc Valiente, Victor Vazquez, and Marc Pedreza they swept all before them and won every honour available to them.
Of that team, three players had already been earmarked for greatness, and it is ironic that both Pique and Fabregas found their route to the top by leaving La Masia and heading to England while Messi, alone, remained at home.
In the summer of 2003 Barcelona were a club in turmoil. Fabregas fresh from being named as the best player at the FIFA World Youth Championship was having a crisis of his own. There was a long line of world-class players ahead of him in his position and they were all young.
While the Fabregas family debated over whether to sign a new deal or not, the club put off all contract talks until the new president had taken over and before new Joan Laporta had installed sporting director Txiki Begiristain, Fabregas, 16, had moved to Arsenal.
While in the Gunners youth team he continued his phenomenal goal scoring record from Spain, where he was known to notch up 30+ goals a season as their defensive midfielder. Such was the quality of his play, Arsene Wenger gave the homesick youth his debut a couple of months later against Rotherham in the League Cup, where he became Arsenal's youngest ever first team player at 16 years and 177 days. He then went on to become the clubs youngest goal scorer of all time in the next round of the League Cup, as the Gunners cruised past Wolves with a 5-1 win.
The following season Fabregas now aged 17 became a regular with the first team, playing 33 times, but it was not until the following season in 2005/06 that he tied down the central midfield berth after Patrick Vieira was sold to Juventus.
So far this season, the 22-year-old Fabregas is easily the stand out midfielder in the English Premier League, if not Europe. Weighing in with 19 goals and 19 assists in only 36 games. A brilliant record for any player, but made all the more special by the fact that Fabregas plays in midfield and would not be considered the main source of goals at the club.
He is blessed with all the tools any great player should possess. Incredible vision, a phenomenal range of passing with laser like precision, a desire to always do the right thing, and an abhorrence at giving the ball away cheaply. And what he lacks in stature, he makes up in determination and an attitude that has carried his team to victory when a result looks least likely.
Such is his maturity on the ball it is very easy to forget that he is still only 22, even though it feels like he has been around for years.
In short he is easily the most important player in the current Arsenal team, and one of the most important players in the EPL. However, Arsenal have not won a trophy since installing Fabregas as their central piece.
It is little wonder that Pep Guardiola wants to bring back the player he signed a no.4 jersey for all them years ago with the adage of "one day you will wear this for Barca's first team."
Barcelona let a child leave, but they are looking to re-sign a man.
On Wednesday night he was part of the Arsenal team that fought back from 2-0 down to a highly creditable 2-2 draw, scoring the crucial penalty that levelled terms.
With the club confirming that the player suffered a crack to his fibula, either in taking the penalty or in the challenge that gave the penalty away, and will be ruled out for at least six weeks.
Alfons Godall, the current favourite to win the election is already a serving official at the club in his role as vice president. His chance of election has been strengthened by the persistent rumour that former Barcelona Economic Vice President, Ferran Soriano, is about to join his campaign. Godall has also received the backing from outgoing president Joan Laporta, who described him as the best candidate and the man who would bring more success to the club than he did.
Godall is quoted in Spanish media as saying "Sooner or later Cesc will end up coming back."
Sandro Rosell, another candidate, has promised to use his friendship with the Fabregas family as a tool to engineer the return of their prodigal son.
So it begs the question: Have Arsenal's fans seen the last of Cesc Fabregas in their famous red and white jersey?
Apart from money, why would Fabregas want to go back to Barcelona?
On a professional level, Los Cules are guaranteed to challenge for both the La Liga title and the UEFA Champions League over the coming seasons, while Arsenal remain outside bets for either.
He has seen the two teams play against each other and has been given the unique chance to measure his current employers against his prospective ones. There is little doubt that Barcelona are a better side, having seen their incredible display during the first hour of the match. But Arsenal showed a resilience that few thought was possible and came back from the dead to draw.
The summer is going to be an incredibly busy one for the 22-year-old Arsenal captain. First he has to get fit and help his country through the World Cup in Spain. Being one of the favourites, they will be expecting to be around for at least the month of June, during which the Barcelona presidential elections take place.
What colours will Cesc be wearing by August? I guess we'll know by summers end when the young man makes the decision that will not only affect him, but the fates of two massive clubs.