Fabregas' Catch-22 over Arsenal and Manchester United

Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas has a lot of thinking to do this summer – about his past, his present and, most importantly, his future.

The former Arsenal captain has not had the best season this term with the Catalans. In fact, he’s not replicated his form at the Emirates since his return to his hometown and boyhood club in Spain back in 2011.

At Arsenal, he came through the ranks as 16-year-old mere months after departing from his homeland. He couldn’t see a way to the first-team from the La Masia academy – his path was then (and still is now) blocked by three of the best footballers ever to play the game in Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta.

As he takes a trip back down memory lane back to 2003 when he signed for Arsenal, he’ll remember how much of an impact Arsene Wenger had on his career and how much of his subsequent success can be attributed to his mentoring and development over his 8-year spell in North London.

He said so himself in interview – he cried the day he said goodbye to Wenger, he couldn’t speak and he will forever be grateful. He may remember the 2006 Champions League final he played in against him boyhood club.

The likes of Thierry Henry, Freddie Ljungberg, Robert Pires, Ashley Cole and Jens Lehman around him, there was an abundance then of star players, quality and a great optimism about the future of the club of which he was hailed as the jewel.

Flash-forward to the last time he faced Barcelona in an Arsenal shirt – the Champions League last-16 first-leg at the Emirates in 2010. He scored the penalty to level the tie at 2-2 in the dying seconds of the game, despite his broken leg and his heartbreak that he would likely miss the return fixture at the Camp Nou as a result.

That Arsenal team consisted of Cesc Fabregas, the captain and heartbeat of the team and…Samir Nasri. That’s about it in terms of ‘stars’ – in fairness, even Nasri wasn’t considered a ‘star’; he was still up and coming. Andrei Arshavin perhaps was but he’d already begun his descent into mediocrity by then and Nicklas Bendtner was their only real option up front.

Theo Walcott scored the Gunners’ first goal but with only Tomas Rosicky, Eduardo and Denilson left on the bench, it was clear the abundance of star quality the Gunners once enjoyed was gone. On the return leg they were simply outclassed by Barca and Lionel Messi.

Flash-forward to 2011, Fabregas had gone. Arsenal’s next fixture was Manchester United at Old Trafford. It ended 8-2. Outclassed would be an understatement. Arsenal were a shambles.

Fabregas left a huge void that couldn’t be filled. Even his intended replacements Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla together still don’t equate to his role in that team.

It’s a different team now, though. Robin van Persie, the man who replaced him as captain now resides at Old Trafford. Fabregas’ understudy Jack Wilshere along with Walcott are perhaps the only remnants of stars that remain.

The likes of Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski have started well and the defence has looked much better in the last six months but Arsenal are still a long way off being the kind of team who can make it to a Champions League final.

Barcelona, however, are not. Despite being thoroughly outclassed themselves in their 7-0 thrashing from Bayern Munich in the semifinals, Barcelona are still a great great team. They’ll be there and there abouts next season, make no mistake.

Manchester United outclassed the rest of the Premier League this term, running away with the title and were it not for a dodgy decision against Real Madrid, who knows where they might have ended up in the Champions League.

Cesc Fabregas now faces a decision – first things first; should he stay or should he go? Secondly, if he goes; where?

Should he leave his hometown once again in search of regular first-team football at a club where he’s the main attraction or at least valued as a key player?

He probably should – Messi, Xavi and Iniesta aren’t going to retire any time soon, they wont be sold and Barca will add even more quality this summer. It’s hard to see where Fabregas is going to fit in.

So, if he decides he’s had enough where should he go? He loves Arsenal, we know that but going back to the Emirates would be almost admitting it didn’t work out in Spain. It would be returning to more of the same – Arsenal still don’t have enough quality, they struggled to narrowly make the top four and it’s their eighth successive year without a trophy.

He would have his compatriots Cazorla, Arteta and Nacho Monreal, however and, both Wilshere and Walcott have improved since he left but I’m still not convinced he’d be convinced Arsenal are ambitious enough for him.

Manchester United are and, following the retirement of Paul Scholes, he could basically walk into that team and take over as the main playmaker. He’d have his old friend Van Persie as company and he’d have a much better shot at winning titles. But, he’d never be forgiven by Arsenal fans. He’d taint his status as a Gunners’ legend and he’d be forsaking his father figure Wenger.

It’s catch-22 – he’s damned if he stays, he’s damned if he goes. Perhaps he’ll opt to move somewhere else entirely, like Italy or France where he could turn over a new leaf and start again.

image: © Ronnie Macdonald

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