As you may have guessed from the title, the topic of this post is someone Arsenal fans do not really enjoy talking about these days: Cesc Fabregas.
The reason is obvious. Cesc played for us for a long time, eventually becoming club captain, and now he plays for them. Not only that but, in the minds of many, he could be in our squad right now. It's the perfect storm of betrayal and "what could have been."
So, as we are just past the 18 month anniversary of his perfidy, it seems appropriate to take a step back and reflect on the great transfer saga of 2014, ponder what might have been, and analyze what actually happened.
No analysis of what happened is complete without mentioning the massive role Cesc played for Arsenal for many years. For Arsenal fans of a certain period, Cesc Fabregas was Arsenal. We came of age after the Invincibles, after Thierry Henry had passed his prime, after Patrick Vieira patrolled central midfield, after Highbury. We were aware of these other things but they were history. Cesc was the present.
And then, he wasn't present. He was off winning trophies with the Spanish national side and flirting with Barcelona every summer. When he finally made the move, it hurt, but reasonable people could not really begrudge him wanting to play for the best team in the world at the time. Plus, whatever he did behind the scenes to force his way out, at least he maintained the kayfabe of being an Arsenal fan for life. While a vocal minority of the fan base despised him, I think it's fair to say most still liked him, certainly more than other Arsenal stars that took domestic flights out of London such as Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin van Persie, and Samir Nasri.
His exit from Barcelona was unceremonious and, compared to his Arsenal transfer saga, rather truncated. In mid-May 2014 there were legitimate journalists saying Barcelona might have to unload him to fund their Lionel Messi annual pay raises and their totally-above-board purchase of Neymar. On June 5th, the Ornacle was telling us Arsenal rejected him. By the second week of June, Chelsea's official site had a picture of him holding a blue kit.
The inquest among Arsenal fans immediately began. Why would Arsene not want the prodigal son to return home? Even more, why would he pass on Cesc knowing that, in rejecting him, he'd be placing a nice, shiny bow on top of that balding head for one of his Premier League rivals?
One of the popular lines of thought was that Wenger did not think Mesut Özil and Cesc could co-exist, considering both prefer to play the no. 10 role. While that kind of makes sense, it ignores the fact that both the German and Spanish playmakers have played in multiple positions throughout their career to accommodate talented teammates. They have performed pretty dang well no matter where they have been positioned. It also ignores the fact, that has been rehashed recently, that Arsene tried really hard to sign Özil in the summer of 2010, when we still had Fabregas. Fabregas, Özil, and van Persie would have...I just better stop before I go too deep into that brighter timeline and lose sense of reality.
We will never know for sure, unless Arsene Wenger is hooked up to a lie detector test while giving an interview on the matter for his Official Authorized Biography, but it seems like we passed on Cesc because we do not have an endless well of pounds to draw from for transfer fees and big wages and had targeted another Barcelona outcast, Alexis Sánchez, as our big purchase of the summer. Maybe it's because he did not actually want to come back, as one theory states. Maybe it's because he had burned those bridges behind the scenes with his attitude when he forced his way out, as another states. Maybe it's because Wenger wanted to destroy Jose's career and embedded him within Chelsea as a perfect Manchurian candidate as yet another posits. These are all very valid theories. Feel free to stroke your pet one until time passes and you don't really care anymore. The fact is, Chelsea got him, we moved on. How did that all work out?
Initially the move paid off extremely well for Chelsea. The Chelsea of August 2014 to December 2014 was quite possibly the most fun Jose Mourinho team in history in terms of attacking football, with Cesc at the heart of what they were doing. They were so good, they cinched up the title before the New Year. To Roman Abramovich, it was likely well worth the £27 million transfer fee, plus whatever add-ons were tacked on by Chelsea's league title and Cesc's appearances for the club, and the rumored £8+ million annual gross salary to win the league.
However, things have not quite gone as well for Chelsea in 2015. Cesc had his annual second half dip in form, which snowballed into this season. Chelsea currently sit 16th in the table after 16 matches. Jose is publicly losing his mind. The players are either past it or severely unmotivated. Cesc has recently been relegated to the bench in favor of guys like Ramires and Oscar. His play has been so poor that even fake accounts tweeting about him being a target for the MLS seem believable.
As for Arsenal, we certainly could have used him in the fall of 2014! Since then, however, we've had Santi Cazorla be largely a revelation as a center midfielder next to Francis Coquelin. Mesut Özil is currently on pace to set the Premier League single-season assist record and his chances created stats are borderline pornographic. Aaron Ramsey is once again showing he's as good a box-to-box midfielder as there is in the Premier League. It's hard to envisage where Cesc would fit into our fully fit XI, much less our current, injury-riddled one. While depth in talent is a very useful thing to have, there's also the issues of chemistry (Fabregas, as we have seen up close, tends to mope when he does not get his way) and cost (that's an expensive luxury piece for a club that likes to trumpet fiscal responsibility). Considering the great chemistry this squad seems to have and the theoretical financial ability to improve in weaker areas than "skilled playmaker who does not score many goals", the argument against signing him was pretty strong last summer and has only strengthened this calendar year.
It is impossible to know what would have happened had Fabregas rejoined the club. Could we have won more than just the FA Cup? Maybe we could have. What I know for a fact is that schadenfreude is a legitimate path to joy in life. Few things have brought me as much joy as watching Chelsea completely bomb this season, in large part because of Cesc's lemming-like form. Nothing, not even Chelsea's eventual resurgence into an Europa League spot and Cesc's resurgence into a professional footballer, can take that away from me.