The Fabregas Dilemma II: Wenger’s Pressure
The only time the ubiquitous transfer madness surrounding Arsene Wenger's young captain will end will be when Wenger finally sells him to Barcelona for something like 15-20 times the price originally paid for him. In that sense, Wenger will have made quite the profit from his investment in Cesc Fabregas. But in many other senses, ones with names like "winning," he will lose out big-time in the deal. So it's easy to understand why he's sick of the constant worldwide chatter (much of it originating from Barcelona players and management) about Fabregas leaving:
"I believe Cesc loves the club, has shown his attachment to the club many times and I am very confident the story will end there," he said. "We want Cesc to be part of our club next year, and that is it. "There was a lot of unneeded talk. It is not pleasant to read that every day. Now the story has to stop. Cesc is our captain. He is so important to us and we want to keep him. That is why we were not listening to any offers. It was not a problem of money – just the desire to keep him at the club."
Woof. Not really hiding his emotional exhaustion over this, is he? It's pretty easy to understand why Wenger clings to Fabregas as his Arsenal binky. He's a once-in-a-generation player (well, outside of Catalonia, anyway) with outstanding vision, passing, and finishing abilities who's risen to the challenge of captaining a young Arsenal squad. We've already discussed the internal conflict Cesc Fabregas faces regarding the lure of Barcelona, and today we examine the choices before Arsene Wenger and the rights and responsibilities of managers facing this sort of problem.
The biggest variables in the entire Cesc equation are how he actually feels about going to Barcelona and what he's communicated to Wenger. Only the two of them can replace those variables with constants, so we're left to do a little matrixing to evaluate Wenger's best options.
1) Cesc firmly wants to stay and has told this to Wenger.
Easy choice. Tell Barcelona where they can stick it and encourage Fabregas to communicate privately to his Catalonian pals to shut the eff up. This could fit with Wenger's quotes above as well as Cesc's awkward reaction to being stuffed in a Barca shirt during the World Cup celebrations. But if Fabregas were truly certain of his decision, you probably wouldn't have the president of Barcelona saying recently that "the whole world knows he wants to come." That's obviously an exaggeration, but you know the whole smoke/fire thing, right?
2) Cesc firmly wants to stay but hasn't told this to Wenger.
That would be dumb. Let's assume Cesc isn't dumb.
3) Cesc firmly wants to leave and has communicated this to Wenger.
On the face of it, that'd make the quotes above pretty disingenuous, but if you read them, poor Arsene doesn't actually say that Cesc has told him he wants to stay. He just says, "I believe he loves the club" and that Cesc has shown attachment to Arsenal in the past. So it's not like it's inconceivable he's told Wenger he wants to leave this summer as had been rumored before the World Cup and that Wenger is just applying public pressure to try and change his mind. Now we're getting to some of the questions at the heart of the clusterf*** that is the transfer market. Does a player have a right to ask to be transferred? Should he be able to ask for it quietly so as not to be the bad guy to his current fan base? Should a team accommodate these kinds of requests? If so, how much should they hold out for a fair valuation vs. grant the player his desire to move on? Answering these definitively/abstractly can be difficult; every circumstance is different. In the case of Fabregas, I believe:
- He's earned the right to ask to move on. He's given his all for 7 years, captained the team at an age most players are breaking into a squad, and been nothing but positive about Arsenal in public. I definitely think this would be the wrong personal choice for Cesc, but if 7 years of excellent service doesn't earn you the right to cash in your chips, what does?
- He's earned the right to ask for it quietly. This might be a strange definition of "quietly," what with the whole football world buzzing about it, but Cesc himself has played coy, and I think that's understandable. Fabregas has no ill will towards Arsenal, and it doesn't do anyone any good to make him the jerk. Arguably, the team benefits from this arrangement, as well. Players who submit transfer requests never return the same price as those who could conceivably stay with their current club. No reason to give all the leverage to the other team unless PR means everything to you.
This brings us to the decision point of this option — supposing Cesc really wants to go and has told Wenger, should they agree to transfer him? I suppose my answer's fairly obvious from the arguments above about Fabregas' service. They should accommodate the request because he's earned it, and they should do everything in their power to play up the possibility of Cesc staying to make sure they get fair(ish) value for the guy. In return, Cesc should play along and not tip off Barca that he'll definitely transfer; otherwise, people start getting spiteful and the game of diplomacy devolves into war. I hate to say it to my Arsenal friends, but those "I believe he loves us" quotes from Wenger fit right into this scenario, as well.
4) Cesc firmly wants to leave but hasn't told Wenger.
Definitely one of the legitimate possibilities. Fabregas may have made up his mind to leave but hasn't said anything to Wenger thanks to a sour cocktail of respect, fear, and shame. This would leave Wenger guessing, saying to himself "well, if Cesc wanted to leave for sure, he'd have told me by now, right? Maybe he really wants to stay! At the very least, maybe he's on the fence!" Enter the "I believe" quotes above once again — maybe Wenger doesn't know what Fabregas wants and is trying to sway him publicly. If so, that's pretty tacky. If Cesc isn't answering your calls, then you probably have your answer. If he is answering your calls, then you should be calling him to ask where he stands. That way, you can say "Cesc told me he loves it here" and sound less like a creepy boy/girlfriend trying to hang on to their current squeeze through denial and self-delusion. Or you can start dealing with the realities of moving on. Either way, Wenger has only one choice here: get a fricking answer directly from your captain.
5) Cesc is conflicted and has sent mixed signals to Wenger.
This is probably the truth, isn't it? Cesc wants to go back to Barca but also feels the tug of loyalty and unfinished business — not to mention being king of the hill — at Arsenal. Wenger's probably gotten a sense of this internal conflict, or has outright been told about it, and is trying to tone down the Barca noise machine in the hopes that they stop eroding Cesc's dedication to Arsenal.
Handling this situation is challenging. On one hand, using rationality to attempt to convince someone that they should stick around when they're emotionally halfway out the door is a slow death. They will eventually leave, and you'll have only the extra time you spent torturing yourself over how to keep them to show for it. This seems to be the sort of pain Wenger is suffering as he publicly begs for decency from Barcelona. Then you have the fear that Cesc will be playing with a wandering eye and could struggle to give his all to Arsenal as he chews over whether he should finally demand to move on in [insert next transfer window here].
On the other hand, if you decide to cut ties now without a fight, you might get fair compensation but will immediately be stuck with the impossible task of trying to replace him. Why give up on a rare talent when you might've been able to convince him to stay? Shouldn't you tug on that loyalty as hard as you can to try and hold onto your star? In this scenario, there's only one acceptable answer to the Cesc Fabregas Dilemma from Arsene Wenger's perspective: make a private, verbal deal for Fabregas to stay for 12 months (or 24 if you're lucky) with a guarantee he can leave at the end. Wenger needs to approach Cesc and speak about the situation the way we do: everyone knows it's only a matter of time until you go, so let's set a definite window in which you commit totally to Arsenal (including publicly), and that at the end of that time you will be transferred to Barcelona.
Wenger may be incapable of this choice. He's built his entire team around Fabregas and seems to have assumed that Cesc would stick around for his entire career. Otherwise, I doubt he'd be so publicly exasperated over the speculation. But another 1-2 years of a fully focused Cesc may be the best he can hope for; it's certainly the most any Arsenal supporter I know is expecting. This sort of deal allows Fabregas to focus while knowing his long-term future will be settled, gives you a small window to win with him now, and ups the odds that you'll get a good price for him as long as the deal remains between the two of you. There are no easy choices in this final — and most probable — scenario. But Cesc is a grass-is-greener type of player (see his years-long saga to leave Barca in the first place), and the odds of him ever leaving Barcelona completely in the past are slim. If he'll give you one more good year in return for a verbal guarantee to move him in 2011, Wenger should take it. And start scouring the earth for the next Fabregas.