August 15, 2011 7 Comments
It is finally over. After a soap opera-style saga which has dragged on across two summers – and featured one last twist in the tail on Friday - the curtain came down last night on the Arsenal career of Cesc Fàbregas after eight years, 303 games, 57 goals and countless moments of audacious skill which are simply beyond the compass of all but a tiny handful of his peers.
It is now time to look forwards, to see how Arsène Wenger spends the transfer proceeds to replace both Fàbregas and the soon-to-be-departed Samir Nasri. But, setting aside the emotion associated with the loss of the club’s best player in his prime, here are four key questions which have been troubling me over the last few days.
1. Why only £35m?
On the face of it, a deal which values the 24-year old Fàbregas at a maximum of £35m (about a quarter of it in add-ons) seems like a bargain, particularly when you consider that Liverpool paid the same amount for Andy Carroll, or that Manchester United managed to wangle £80m out of Real Madrid for Cristiano Ronaldo.
Despite the player still having four years left on his contract, Arsenal were certainly hampered by the fact that Barcelona were the only buyer in town and that Fàbregas so clearly wanted to return home. In our modern post-Bosman football world, it is very difficult to stop players getting what they want.
For sure, Fàbregas’s fee might have been pushed up above £40m – a more reasonable valuation, surely – if another big club had come in for him. But what would have been the point? Cesc had made it clear he was only ever going to leave Arsenal for one other team, and for anyone else to have tried – even the seemingly bottomless pockets of Real Madrid or Manchester City – would only have been an exercise in futility and embarrassment.
The reality is Arsenal were always stuck between a rock and a hard place, and had little to gain by holding on to a disgruntled player and holding out for a few million more. As part of the deal, they will receive 50% of any subsequent fee should Fàbregas leave Barcelona – although obviously the Catalan club have included this clause on the assumption that Cesc will either retire with his hometown club or leave for a pittance in the final years of his career.
As for the 48-hour delay, Barcelona – in particular, a number of their players – jumped the gun on Friday in announcing the completion of the deal in violation of non-disclosure agreements. Such terms are standard practice in any deals (whether in football or more generally in business), to ensure that news is formally announced in a timely and organised fashion. Ignoring such agreements is bad form (and can in theory have legal consequences), so for Arsenal to then stall the announcement until after their opening game at Newcastle was not unreasonable. A little petty, perhaps, but fair enough given Barcelona’s flouting of due process.
2. Will Barcelona effectively pay themselves a sell-on fee?
Of course, Arsenal will probably not receive all of the fee. I stand to be corrected on this one, but my understanding is that part of the compensation agreement between the two clubs when Fàbregas moved from Spain to England (for a nominal fee of just £500,000) was the inclusion of a sell-on fee in the event of a future transfer.
This is common practice in football, but what is less usual – though by no means unique – is for the initial seller to then be the subsequent buyer. (I can think of two recent examples of this occurring, both involving Tottenham strikers: Jermain Defoe‘s moves to and from Porstmouth, and Robbie Keane‘s short-lived transfer to Liverpool.)
Does this mean that Barcelona will receive some of their own money back in the form of a sell-on fee? If so, it’s an unusual little windfall for them, and somewhat galling for Arsenal to have to pay Barcelona for buying a player off them.
3. What is the point of a loyalty bonus?
Let’s be clear about this. I have no doubt that Fàbregas will always retain a fondness for Arsenal. But at the same time, nobody should be fooled into thinking that he did not slap in a transfer request out of a sense of loyalty to the club. The motivation was purely a financial one.
In common with many other footballer deals, Cesc had a loyalty clause which guaranteed him a bonus payment if his contract – which still had four years to run – was broken by the club. By engineering a move without the need for a transfer request, Fàbregas will activate this loyalty clause and receive a bonus thought to be worth £1m for each remaining year of his contract (i.e. £4m in total). In effect, it will offset the seemingly altruistic ‘pay cut’ he has reportedly agreed to take to facilitate the deal. Swings and roundabouts.
It’s not so much a loyalty bonus as one for not showing overt disloyalty, isn’t it? A player can do whatever else is in his power to force through a transfer – openly court another club, refuse to play or concoct phantom injuries – but in contractual terms is considered ‘loyal’ unless he puts his dissatisfaction formally in writing.
I won’t condemn Fàbregas for doing whatever he has done behind the scenes to oil the wheels. He is hardly the first to have done so, and he will not be the last. But it seems like a mighty odd way for football clubs to incentivise their players.
EDIT: Fàbregas has reportedly waived his loyalty bonus to help facilitate the move – an indication of his determination to complete the transfer, but also a sign that his primary motivation was not a financial one. It is a refreshing gesture in a world where too many players claim not to be forcing a transfer on the basis of money, while at the same time doubling their salary.
4. Where now for Arsenal?
The message from Arsenal’s travelling fans at Newcastle was loud and clear: “Spend some f***ing money!”
It is easy to predict doom and gloom for Arsenal – and many fans have done exactly that – but it is also not the first time the club has sold its captain on the eve of a new season. Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry were both considered talismanic and irreplaceable, but each was already past the peak years of their career and the team readjusted and moved forwards without them. However, in the case of Fàbregas (and Nasri), he is approaching his best years and although Jack Wilshere is his heir apparent, the squad looks more threadbare than after the previous departures. The despondency is understandable, although it will hopefully be mitigated by some top quality signings before the end of the month.
Regardless of the circumstances of his protracted departure, I will have nothing but good memories of Cesc Fàbregas. His first-team debut in the League Cup against Rotherham. (I was at Highbury that night, and I remember commenting after the match that the then 16-year old simply looked like he belonged in such exalted company.) A coming-of-age performance in a 1-0 victory against Real Madrid at the Bernabéu. His late long-range winner against AC Milan. The audacious dribble and goal from the halfway line against Tottenham at the Emirates.
But now it is time to look forwards.
Wenger faces his biggest challenge over the next fortnight before the transfer window closes. Reinforcements are needed in several positions – a tough central defender, holding midfielder, creative midfielder and goalscorer are all high on the shopping list – but time is against him, as is the fact that any potential sellers will be fully aware that Arsenal are (a) in desperate need and (b) flush with cash, which can only hinder negotiations. However, he at least has ample funds to spend on this occasion, a luxury which has not always been afforded him in recent years.
The fans’ short-term confidence, the club’s medium-term prospects and indeed Wenger’s future beyond this season will all pivot on what happens immediately after the Fàbregas saga.
Never a dull moment.
- Cesc Fabregas signs for Barcelona: live (telegraph.co.uk)
- Fabregas Finally Joins Barcelona From Arsenal (nytimes.com)
- Arsenal Confirm Agreement With Barcelona For Cesc Fabregas Transfer (sbnation.com)
- Fabregas finally joins Barcelona from Arsenal (cbc.ca)
- Fabregas finally joins Barcelona from Arsenal (sportsillustrated.cnn.com)
- Fabregas finally joins Barcelona from Arsenal (usatoday.com)