When Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol bundled Cesc Fabregas into a Barcelona shirt as a prank during Spain’s 2010 World Cup celebrations, the sight of the then-Arsenal midfielder in the scarlet and blue of the Catalan club seemed almost natural.
After all, he is a cule—joining the famed La Masia academy at just 10 years old. Even when wearing the red and white of Arsenal, the colours closest to his heart were that of Barcelona. It was only a matter of time before he donned the famous shirt.
His £35 million switch back to Camp Nou three years ago was a homecoming of sorts, but in truth, Fabregas never belonged at Barcelona—at least the Barca he found in 2011. His footballing homeland is England, and he could be set to return.
Barcelona have told Premier League clubs that the midfielder is available for £30 million this summer, with the player himself reported to be keen on a return to England, as per Matt Law of The Telegraph.
Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United have all been linked with a move for the 27-year-old, with a return to Arsenal also mooted by English and Spanish media.
But which Premier League club actually needs Fabregas? Which team would he be best suited to?
Although Fabregas was trained by Barcelona from a young age, he never quite fit the mould at Camp Nou. He could never be described as an archetypal Barca player.
Yes, many hallmarks of La Masia can be found in Fabregas’s game. Some say he was one of the best passers ever to have graced the Premier League. During eight years at Arsenal, Fabregas was the dynamo at the heart of English football’s most attractive and stylish side. But he was too English by trade for Barca.
His style was too direct, certainly to be used as a "tiki-taka" horse in the Barcelona midfield carousel. That’s why Pep Guardiola, Tito Vilanova and Tata Martino all preferred to play Fabregas as a forward. They found his attacking instinct too difficult to curtail.
In England, he is still remembered as one of the finest midfielders ever to have played in the top flight. But in Spain, Fabregas is seen in a rather different light.
Some have tagged him with the dreaded "bottler" tag, claiming that he goes missing when he’s needed most. Others suggest he rarely makes the difference on the big occasion.
So he scored nine goals and contributed 14 goals last season, but how many of those came in 5-0 thrashings of teams like Rayo Vallecano, his critics ask? His advocates counter that his positional sense has been skewed by his erratic selection at Barca.
Spanish football never brought out the best in Fabregas, but his stock has stayed high, meaning the Camp Nou club can still command such a high figure for his signature.
Much of Manchester United’s failure over the past 12 months can be traced back to last summer, when far too much time and attention was wasted on the Barcelona midfielder. They wanted Fabregas, but got Marouane Fellaini instead.
Now they have a genuine chance of signing their long-term target, but Louis van Gaal could scupper Ed Woodward’s personal project. The Man Utd manager-elect is set to overlook Fabregas in favour of moves for Bastian Schweinsteiger and Kevin Strootman, according to Simon Jones of the Daily Mail. Fabregas isn’t on his wish list.
Having trailed Fabregas for so long, United might regret not going for him when they finally have the chance. United can no longer buy players with a view to the future. They need good players now, particularly midfielders, and Fabregas certainly fulfills that billing.
Arsenal are said to have a "buy-back" option on Fabregas, as per Jeremy Wilson of The Telegraph, but Arsene Wenger’s side have moved on without him. Now they have Aaron Ramsey.
Just 12 months ago that statement would have been met with genuine hilarity, but the Welshman has matured into the Premier League’s most complete central midfielder. Arsenal simply have higher priorities, as much as it would be a sentimental wrench to see their former captain join a rival.
Nothing would hurt Gunners more than the sight of yet another Arsenal hero pulling on the sky blue of Manchester City. But any move for Fabregas could hinge on the future of Yaya Toure, with Financial Fair Play sanctions restricting City’s transfer activity this summer. Toure out could mean Fabregas in.
Liverpool have also been linked with a move for Fabregas, as per Charles Reynolds of The Independent, with their recently secured Champions League status an obvious attraction for a player accustomed to the very top level.
The capture of Fabregas would allow Steven Gerrard to sit deeper and dictate play from a more defensive role as age starts to take its toll on the England captain. From a tactical standpoint, Fabregas would be a perfect fit for Liverpool, but can they fork out the £30 million transfer fee, plus wages?
Then there’s Chelsea. The Blues want Fabregas to become Frank Lampard’s successor, as per Matt Law of The Telegraph, offering him a return not just to the Premier League, but also to London—a city close to the player’s affections.
Such a move would require some sort of reconciliation between Fabregas and the man he’d be playing for at Chelsea, Jose Mourinho. “Some people were talking a bit too much,” the midfielder snarled following a Champions League win at Man City earlier this season, as per ITV (h/t Football Espana), “but they will have to shut up for a few days now."
To which “people” was Fabregas referring? Mourinho, of course, who had labeled the current Barcelona side as the worst incarnation he’d seen of the Catalan giants for “many, many years.” There’s bad blood there.
Fabregas’s frustration at Barca had long been apparent.
“If you play one game and then the next, and the next, and then the next, but then comes the game away to Bayern Munich and you’re losing 4-0 and you’re sitting on the bench, then you can’t help but let it get to you,” he revealed in an interview last year, as per Sid Lowe of The Guardian.
Perhaps this summer Spain’s Premier League contingent will be battling to manhandle Fabregas into their team’s shirt, just like Pique and Puyol did three years ago.