The Fabregas saga, part II: What the hell is Mourinho smoking?
Cesc Fabregas, despite being quoted more than once saying he’d never play for another English team than Arsenal, has signed for José Mourinho’s Chelsea. The biggest question mark of all is why Mourinho would even want Fabregas in his team. Not because of polarising philosophies (Mourinho isn’t the same bus-parking strategist as he was in his first stint with Chelsea, or with Inter Milan), but rather because Fabregas is notoriously positionally undisciplined – and positioning is something Mourinho’s whole system and strategy depends on.
When Fabregas came back to Barcelona, the general consensus was that the natural successor to Xavi had been installed to ensure the club seamlessly transforms into the next generation without losing momentum. However, the celebrations faded quickly as Pep Guardiola struggled to get Fabregas to play with discipline and urgency.
Fabregas had been played as a free-roaming #10 at Arsenal where he could get away with walking around the pitch waiting for his teammates to pass him the ball. But at Barcelona, Fabregas was quickly surprised at the level of training he had to go through, saying:
We train more, here, definitely. It was different at Arsenal. Sometimes after games we’d stay inside the gym but here we’re always outside, with the ball, practising, working tactically. Even if we play almost every three days we hardly have a day off. We train a lot – nearly every day
Fabregas also found it hard to adapt to a central midfield role further down the pitch, saying:
Playing as an interior means you have to be disciplined, to keep your position, and sometimes I lack the patience of [Sergio] Busquets and Xavi [Hernandez]. It is not easy. It’s completely different. Everyone has their own place and it’s important you stick to your position
Guardiola became frustrated at Cesc’s lack of concentration, but felt he had to play him. He was played in midfield, on the wings, anywhere Pep could fit him. But being played on the flanks meant Barcelona lost their devastating wide pace, and being played in the middle meant Barca lost it’s vital midfield shape. What Fabregas really wanted was to play in the position he did at Arsenal, saying:
At Barca it is really difficult because the best player in history, Messi, plays in my position
The real issue here was that Fabregas had become so accustomed to his relaxed role at Arsenal that the requirements for playing somewhere else were overwhelming. He simply didn’t have the necessary skills in his repertoire. Another player at Barcelona did, however. His name was Thiago, and the arrival of Fabregas meant the death of Thiago’s future at Barcelona.
So why is Cesc playing for Chelsea, and not Arsenal? Let’s be clear about something: Cesc Fabregas is in this business to win trophies, not to make other people happy. He left Arsenal to win trophies with Barcelona. Being homesick had nothing to do with it – does anyone think Fabregas would have let his friends talk on his behalf for years before forcing a move by refusing to train, if Barcelona were relegation candidates? No, Fabregas was desperate to play for what was being billed as the best team in the world at that time. It being his childhood club just meant Fabregas could use emotional reasons to soften the blow and still keep supporters on his side.
He even admitted in The Guardian in 2011 that this was the case, saying:
I want to be in a club that is able to win the big titles year after year and I don’t see that kind of future for Arsenal. They won’t be able to push the other big clubs in England away. If you look at the team this season I can’t see them finishing in front of teams like Manchester United or City, or Chelsea. There’s just too big a difference between the squads. Part of my decision to leave was that I find it hard to see Arsenal winning the Premier League or Champions League in the near future
So when Barcelona now aren’t world-beaters anymore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Fabregas all of a sudden is homesick for London, where, coincidentally, a team with near-limitless funds and a very good manager resides. Cesc himself is trying to play it off as Arsenal would have been his preferred choice, but let’s not pretend Fabregas believes he has a bigger chance of winning a trophy here than at Chelsea.
Chelsea was probably always the preferred destination. Arsenal not attempting to sign him was the best possible outcome for Fabregas, who can now shift focus from being a mercenary to being a victim of an unfortunate situation. He would have a hard time trying to explain his choice if we’d been interested.
There are two main reasons Arsene Wenger didn’t want to bring Fabregas back:
The #10 position is the last position we need to strengthen, we already have Özil, Ramsey, Wilshere, Rosicky, Cazorla and even fringe players like Diaby or Eisfeld who sees this position as their natural one.
Fabregas’ wage demands are way above what the club has set as an upper limit. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the primary reason. Why should we give Fabregas £180k/week?
It’s simply not viable to spend about £18m (buy back clause minus what Barcelona still owe us for Alex Song) on a player we simply don’t “need”. The argument that he’d be great to have in the case of injuries is fine, but what does he do until then, who would he replace?
But for me, the most interesting question is what he’ll be doing at Chelsea. Oscar is a fantastic prospect for the #10 position and will no doubt have an amazing World Cup. What is Mourinho planning? And if the always-calm Guardiola occasionally lost the plot over Fabregas’ lack of positional discipline, how will Mourinho react when Fabregas walks around on the pitch looking for fucks to give?
A subforward line of Hazard-Oscar-Fabregas playing behind Diego Costa sounds like a fantastic attacking force on paper, but I simply can’t see Fabregas all of a sudden respecting his position and becoming a hard-working central midfielder. As a £10m squad option, Fabregas is very good. But as a £27m marquee signing, Chelsea might just have lost their mind.