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Finally, Fabregas finds home
Cesc Fabregas has already started re-writing the record books at Barcelona, and made history: he is the first player to score in each of their first four games for Barcelona. Back in North London, Arsene Wenger's Arsenal started their season less successfully, the club's worst start in 58 years, which no doubt lends to the absence of Cesc an enhanced sense of betrayal.
Loyalty, betrayal, Cesc Fabregas, and mutual incomprehension is how Twisted Blood (football blog of the year) entitled an essay attempting to work out a formula to assess player to club loyalty vis a vis fan to club loyalty, and also the meaning of club loyalty. It is an interesting read, not least because, as we all know, concepts like 'loyalty' are not formulaic: they are hard to measure and at best hard to define. Cesc "left the club he loved for the club he loved even more" says Twisted Blood's post.
Although players often make noises about being unhappy, procure a move to a better deal, and are then deemed 'tratitors' by the selling club, Cesc's case has some unique characteristics.
A graduate of Barcelona's superb youth scheme, La Mac?a, Cesc joined Arsenal at a very young age, and came to somehow embody Wenger's long term plan of buying young players rather than superstars. Soon hailed as the hope of Arsenal's future, the young Catalan then watched his 'mother club', Barcelona, unfold into the world's best performing football machine. The darlings of lovers of the beautiful game, under the leadership of the poetic Pep Guardiola and with the prodigal Argentinian Leo Messi and the superlative Spanish players around him, Barcelona went from strength to strength while the young Cesc got less young and more determined to re-join his La Mas?a contemporaries.
Probably most professional players in the world today would like a stint with Barcelona. But Cesc's desire was predicated on the fact that this was his natural home. This was the team where he belonged.
Exile works in mysterious ways for most mortals, and professional footballers can often fall prey to the laws of humanity. For some, time works as a conditioner. They adapt. For others, time enhances the sense of longing. It seems Cesc was feeling more Catalan by the minute, and no doubt the glorious summer of 2010, picking up the World Cup Trophy with Spain - which was essentially the Barcelona team minus Messi plus Casillas - only incremented his desire to be among his own.
His admitted loneliness at Arsenal became increasingly intolerable, as season after season the transfer windows would come and go and Cesc remained in North London. While many speculate on what it was that finally clenched his move this year - Guardiola said he would build his team around Messi;could it be Messi insisted that Cesc be repatriated? - England based observers wondered how he would fit back into the super-club that was once home.
"Barcelona midfielder Xavi believes the arrival of Cesc Fabregas has helped him improve his game, " Sky Sports News quotes. In fact, the ease with which Fabregas has slipped into his role at Barcelona shows an almost telepathic connection with Messi. This is a crucial element of survival in any team involving Messi. Could it be the start of something more fantastic even than the Barcelona we have seen so far? Could the Fabregas-Messi link surpass the smooth excellence of the Messi-Xavi-Iniesta magic trio?
These are questions for Barcelona followers to ponder, and the answer could delight us all. But in London, the sense that Cesc has betrayed, abandoned, or even jumped a sinking ship, lingers.
Other players have left Arsenal to be forever labelled 'traitors' - perhaps a little more by the media than the fans, but the accusation exists nevertheless. But Cesc's circumstances shed light on perhaps a crucial flaw in Wenger's masterplan. The notion of an academy as a centre of excellence, where future professionals are groomed, is enjoying a revival in elite football. We see now that Manchester United's efforts in this respect are still paying off. We have La Mas?a hailed as an example the world over. And Wenger seemed to be onto something with his purchase of youth;saving millions by avoiding already forged household names, he was to create a generation of semi-home-groomed talent.
Yet, the human factor prevails. Young boys are being bought and sold in the football industry, and much as the dream of winning trophies feed their motivation and desires, Cesc Fabregas' story suggests uprooting one too young will only lead to the creation of a young man who is above all homesick. Whereas English pundits are pondering whether Cesc would have been so keen to "return" home if the success tables were turned - would he be longing to leave the best club in the Premiership if Barcelona were not doing so well - this is the wrong presumption.
Of course, all professionals would rather join the top sides. This is the competitive mentality par excellence, and winners like to win. But Cesc's longing seems to be motivated more by the deep felt need to truly 'belong'. On the pitch, it has become all too clear that he is now executing his art in an environment which feels natural to him. He has probably been yearning to play on such turf ever since he was first moved to Arsenal. And he has finally come home.
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