Armchair Pundit

Xavi wasn’t tapping Fabregas up

Alex Chick

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.

Transfer
sagas are often said to have 'twists and turns' but normally they follow a simple,
boring storyline:

Club B
wants Club A's player.

Club B make a
tentative offer while simultaneously making its interest very public.

Club A
tells Club B to rack off, prompting more public stirring from presidents,
managers, future team-mates and finally the player himself.

Eventually
Club A gives in, lets the player go and gets a big wad of cash.

The whole
process can take years, and it almost always plays out the same way.

Everybody
knows Cesc Fabregas will join Barcelona.
Whether he does it this summer, next summer or the summer after is almost
immaterial. He is a Barca player in waiting.

In fact,
you could say he is only on loan at Arsenal.

That's what
Xavi said, prompting howls of protests from Gooners enraged by an extraordinary
public campaign from Barcelona attempting to
bring Fabregas to the Camp
Nou.

Xavi said: "Arsenal need to
understand they are only delaying the inevitable. If we don't manage to get his
signature this season then Arsenal only really have him on loan for a year
because there is nothing they can do to stop him joining next summer."

The
quote, delivered to FIFA.com of all places, was widely interpreted as a
bare-faced piece of tapping-up.

It
followed recent comments from Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Pedro and Sergio
Busquets saying Fabregas should join Barca.

And
of course there was the famous ambush after Spain's World Cup win, when Gerard
Pique and Carles Puyol pulled a red and blue shirt over the unsuspecting Cesc's
head.

In
fact, there is hardly a Barcelona player who has
not made some attempt to lure him to Catalonia.

So why
doesn't FIFA crack down on this shameful contravention of the laws?

How about
this: Because it isn't tapping-up.

First of
all, Xavi is a Barcelona
player (as are the rest). A player. He is not the coach, not the president, not
the technical director and not the press officer. He does not control the
transfer policy and he is not an official mouthpiece. He was expressing a
personal view.

Footballers'
quotes are boring enough in this media-managed age. How much more sterile would
they be if every time a player opened his mouth he was considered the voice of
his employers?

But the
most convincing argument that players cannot be guilty of tapping up is this:
Cesc Fabregas has just spent an entire World Cup with eight Barcelona
players in the Spain
squad.

And, over
the course of the past six weeks or so, you can bet your bottom dollar they
have been chipping away at him incessantly, trying to persuade him to move.

You might
not like it, but there's absolutely no way you can stop it, short of forbidding
players in the same World Cup squad from speaking to each other. (Actually,
that may have been one of Fabio Capello's more draconian regulations.)

Is Fabregas
even allowed to be friends with the Barcelona
players? Surely enjoying Pique's company represents a subtle form of
tapping-up? Can he sit next to him on the team bus? Shouldn't Andrei Arshavin
be there just to provide some balance?

Even if you
ban the public come-and-join-us pleas, you cannot do anything about the private
ones.

- - -

Perhaps we are getting ahead of ourselves. What does the law on tapping-up
actually say?

The FIFA
statute (article 18, clause 3) is a little vague:

"A club intending to conclude a
contract with a professional must inform the player's current club in writing
before entering into negotiations with him. A professional shall only be free
to conclude a contract with another club if his contract with his present club
has expired or is due to expire within six months. Any breach of this provision
shall be subject to appropriate sanctions."

Basically what it means is this - a
player who is still in contract cannot sign for another club unless appropriate
compensation (i.e. a transfer fee) has first been agreed.

However, FIFA's wording
(specifically the word 'inform') seems to allow for the following chain of
events:

1-Barcelona inform Arsenal in
writing that they are entering negotiations with Fabregas.

2-Without agreeing a transfer fee,
and without Arsenal's consent, Barcelona
are allowed to informally agree terms with Fabregas.

3-Arsenal eventually accept a
transfer fee, but only after Barca have quite legally dangled a massive contract
in front of him.

4-Fabregas signs a contract with Barcelona and moves for
the agreed fee.

The usual interpretation says a fee
must be agreed before Barcelona
can even speak to Fabregas, but the FIFA statute suggests otherwise.

It seems Barcelona need only tell Arsenal they are
opening negotiations with Fabregas - the only requirement is that a fee is
agreed before he signs a contract.

- - -

In any case, the argument is now moot. Fabregas knows Barcelona
want to sign him, and Barcelona
know Fabregas wants to join. That's all tapping-up can ever achieve.

Fabregas is not an impressionable
16-year-old (as he was when the Gunners lured him from Barcelona
to Highbury in 2003), he is one of the best players in Europe,
and would surely realise he was in high demand whether or not he had
international colleagues

As the midfielder has four years left on his contract, it is still in Arsenal's
hands. If they do not accept an offer, he stays. Until January...

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