Wonder-boy returns home as man!

Wonder-boy returns home as man!

The versatile Cesc Fabregas has moved from Arsenal to Barcelona, the club where he learned football

At its crudest, it does have elements of that. But players are human. They have the final say in where they go, and last week two of the best, Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Aguero, got exactly what they wanted.

Fabregas finally went home, sold back to Barcelona by Arsenal in a complicated transfer that was heavier on sentiment than mere sterling or euros. He was born and bred in Barcelona, though in his words, Arsenal turned him from a boy into a man.

Going back – to the best team in the world and to a team of lifelong friends, including some with whom he had won the World Cup – is a compelling call. His first steps were almost perfect: He came on as a late substitute in the Spanish Supercup second leg against arch-rival Real Madrid, and minutes later started the exchange of passes that led to Lionel Messi’s winning goal in host Barcelona’s 3-2 victory.

Fabregas got a more sinister introduction to the rivalry in injury time, when he was the target of a vicious foul from Marcelo that started a benches-clearing fight. Aguero’s move, from Atletico Madrid to Manchester City, was unquestionably financially motivated.

Aguero, an Argentine married to a daughter of Diego Maradona, has, at a conservative estimate, doubled whatever Atletico could have bid to keep him. Aguero’s transfer value, about $62 million, was more than the value of the entire Swansea squad.

Barcelona, meanwhile, obtained a greater asset for a similar price. On its website, before Fabregas had completed his medical examinations and put his signature on a five-year contract, Barcelona displayed a photograph of him as a boy proudly wearing its burgundy and blue jersey.

Fabregas returned to a team that already seems to have it all. And the best team in Europe has room for Fabregas because of his versatility.  He has been Arsenal’s playmaker for six seasons, since he was 18. But Barca already has the world’s most exquisite playmaker, the most assured passing exponent, in Xavi Hernandez.

Xavi makes Messi, Andres Iniesta and David Villa play as if they could not play elsewhere, because he intuitively knows when and how to release the ball to them. Fabregas has done that for Arsenal for years. Barcelona’s coach, Pep Guardiola – who was the playing idol of Fabregas a decade ago – knows that Xavi has been overplayed in recent seasons.

He has soldiered on, for club and country, with a slight tear in a thigh muscle. In part that was his choice; in part it was the team’s need. Now, there will be times when Xavi can rest. When he is fit and bursting to go, his new colleague Fabregas will simply adapt to any of three roles he is perfectly capable of performing.

He can play the anchor role, the defensive midfield position that Sergio Busquets currently holds. He can fit right or left of Xavi, as Pedro and the immaculate Iniesta do. He can, dare one suggest it, play ahead of Xavi, finding space around the opposing penalty box the way that Messi, the best player of the modern generation, does. Something will have to give. Barcelona has the maturing 20-year-old Thiago Alcantara bursting through.

Thiago shone, brilliantly, in the playmaker’s role on Barca’s pre-season tour of the United States.  The betting is that Guardiola, who sees Thiago as the future, will solve his problem of surplus by allowing him to leave. One signal that Thiago might depart is that Fabregas already has the shirt off the player’s back. For reasons symbolic and sentimental – and no doubt with replica shirt sales of the Nike branded shirt in mind – Fabregas had to be given the No 4 jersey.

It was his number at Arsenal, and the number on a shirt given to him by Guardiola at a time when Fabregas was low after his parents divorced. In all manner of ways, coming home means more in the Fabregas transfer than in any other transfer. He belongs to this group with Gerard Pique, Iniesta, Xavi and Messi because he learned to play in the same academy.

He was top dog at Arsenal but will be one of the boys at Barca. This will not trouble him or the established players he joins for one paramount reason: Barcelona’s credo, bred into those who pass through its La Masia soccer academy, is team first, ego second. It is hard to beat, but Fabregas has already showed that he can adapt.

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