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By Tony Attwood
I know I know I know I have written about this so many times before. But I still have this memory of seeing Hleb, Flamini and Fabregas sitting together in the stand all chatting away merrily, laughing and joking, presumably planning which club each of them was going to go to.
And for none did it work out like it should. For Flamini, instead of his games per season rising, the number fell right back, with many of his games as a late sub. At the end of his contract he was released as a free agent, and finding no one else wanted him, he signed a new one year contract, taking what is widely reported as “a significant cut in his wages”.
Hleb too ended up unwanted by the club that signed him (Barcelona) when his contract was cancelled by mutual consent during the January 2012.
By that time he’d been loaned to Stuttgard, Birmingham City and Wolfsburg beford signing for Krulia Sovetov and then most recently BATE. He played 19 times for Barcelona.
And so the Flamini Fallacy was born, tracing the frustrations of each top player who leaves Arsenal to do other things, only to find the grass is not always as green as they thought. I won’t repeat the whole thesis – the article is still on this site if you want to read it.
But I am still fascinated and puzzled by Barcelona. A club that has bought so many players from Arsenal that they found they didn’t want. And they still go on doing it, again and again and again. They throw money at us. We can’t say that they keep Arsenal afloat but they really are a great source of funds for Arsenal. So why do they do it?
Put another way, “How can any club be as stupid as Barcelona?”
But it is quite clear that the driving force in Cesc returning to Barcelona was the Barce club itself who clearly see Arsenal as a source of wonder players. Just look at some of the money they have sent our way:
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- Marc Overmars – €40m – 99 games in four years and then retirement
- Thierry Henry – €24m – 80 games in three seasons and left with a year remaining on his contract
- Alexander Hleb – €15m – 19 appearances in four seasons and contract cancelled
- Cesc Fabregas – €34m – still there after one year but getting fed up
- Alex Song – €19m – five year contract signed 2012.
The Henry move to FCB regulsted in 80 games. He was there for 3 years and the total cost to Barca was at the very least £35.8m. I actually think it was more than this but that is the lowest figure quoted. His goal account dropped to 0.43 per game. The cost to Barca was thus at least £447,000 per game, and considering that a number of these games were as sub, it doesn’t look like a great deal for them. I doubt that it was that good for him either, although the bank balance would have looked good given Spain’s low level of tax for foreign players.
It is quite clear that the driving force in all of these transfers is Barcelona – they just keep doing it over and over again. Cesc returning to Barcelona was as a result of the Barce club itself working for three years to get him back.
Remember all that stuff they churned out about Cesc being kidnapped by Arsenal? The club was doing everything it could to get the young man “back home”. The Catalan papers were running stories every day for about two years about how he was going back, how he had been spotted getting onto a plane etc etc. Meanwhile the pro-Real Mad media were ramping up the story, laughing at how Barce couldn’t look after their own children.
Maybe it was that taunting that spurred them on.
Barce were not helped by the fact that just as they were losing the publicity war they were also losing the financial war. They had that horror story of not paying their players on time one month, and then the crazy things with people saying “we are on an economy drive – I have banned my staff from doing colour photocopies.”
Barcelona have since cut their debt out of sheer necessity given the state of the local economy – but they achieved much of the most recent cut because they failed to win anything and so didn’t have to pay any player bonuses. Had they won the league their bonus system would have kept their debt at the same level as before.
They can’t increase their income because they have maximised every possible outlet. Even the shirt which was “sacred” has now got a sponsor’s logo on it. Plus the financial crisis is so great in Spain that no bank wants to lend them any more money.
And to make matters so much worse for Barcelona Arsenal are still picking their young men off as and when we want. Héctor Bellerin came for the standard £350,000 last year, as did Jon Toral. In fact so screwed are things at Barcelona that we didn’t even have to get Ignasi Miquel from them, because after he spent 5 years at the La Masia academy he was released and went to play for UE Cornellà a club which plays in the fourth division in a home stadium which has a capacity of 1,500 spectators.
After so many expensive purchases from Arsenal surely Barcelona couldn’t have really wanted Fabregas for their squad. Some argue that Barce were simply trying to exert their power in order to prove they could get their man just as Real Mad always got their man. It is argued that Cesc was perceived as the man who would follow the footsteps of Xavi in Barcelona’s midfield. But then they had Thiago Alcantara, so why bother?
Cesc Fabregas in 2006 signed an eight year contract with Arsenal. Was it the sheer length of the deal that annoyed Barcelona? Maybe. but the fee they played seems an awful lot for a player who hasn’t played a complete 90 minute game this season. Against Real Mad last week he was, and oh how this must hurt, an unused substitute.
Fabregas joined Barcelona from Arsenal last summer for £30m deal, and looked happy at first, but less and less so as he realised he was playing in a team destined to come second in a two team league. What’s more Tito Vilanova is not Pep Guardiola.
He did play in the 1-0 victory against Valencia. In the live text commentary he got these comments:
25 minutes Fabregas chips the ball wide of goal from Messi’s pass. How did he miss that?
53 minutes Fabregas lifts the ball over the bar from 12 yards out!
62 minutes Fabregas departs to be replaced by Iniesta. A disappointing night for the former Arsenal man.
So what has happened? Is Arsenal hoodwinking Barce over and over again? Maybe that is it, but then we have done it so often you’d think clubs and players would be aware now. Did you know for example that Tottenham are still paying Bentley’s gloriously inflated salary, and that when they signed him quite a chunk of the money that they paid to Blackburn went to Arsenal in the usual sell-on fee deal. Even with such a modest talent Arsenal gain, others lose out.
So Cesc is 25, and should be approaching his peak. But he isn’t.
Cesc’s first few months at Barcelona were probably everything he hoped they’d be: He won trophies, struck up a partnership with Lionel Messi and scored 15 goals.
But Fabregas struggled sometimes even under Guardiola last season. He is no longer the focal point of the team, the player who can explore his talents as he wishes. Barcelona’s game at the moment calls for discipline, focus and concentration within one position on the pitch.
The fact is that Barca didn’t need Cesc, because they have other players who can do the job he is best at. Tres Iniesta, Xavi, Messi, Roberto – why change that?
So the mystery remains. Why did Barce buy him? To annoy Arsenal? Because they were taunted by Real Madrid? Just to prove they could? Because they forgot who else they had in the team? Or was there something more mysterious? Was he perhaps not quite as good as we thought, and Mr Wenger wanted to off-load him, but had to go through all the bit about not wanting him to go?
And then the question – with first option on Cesc if he does want to leave Barcelona again, would Arsenal want him back, knowing that he could be tempted away again by the next club making a huge fuss? Would we play him? Where would we play him and who would drop out?
Barcelona, after three games, are top of the league in Spain, and they are doing it largely without Cesc.
Makes you think.