Arsene Wenger never ceases to amaze. One would have suspected that after sprinkling gold dust over Arsenal with their 3-2 win against Hull City in the FA Cup final last month - a rousing success that saw them recover from trailing 2-0 early on to end a nine-year period without a trophy - now was the perfect moment to maintain momentum. Particularly for the querulous French martinet, who must have wondered about his relevance to the job if Arsenal had lost to Steve Bruce's side.
Bringing Spain midfielder Cesc Fabregas back to the Emirates Stadium from Barcelona prior to the World Cup finals would have marked a greater day among some Arsenal fans than the sight of parading the club’s 11th FA Cup at the new Wembley. Now all they are left with are slightly bewildering images of Cesc clasping a Chelsea shirt.
Wenger apologised to Arsenal fans for leaving it so long between trophies when the bunting was going up. Some will feel the club owe them an apology for failing to reel in Fabregas.
Fabregas, still only 27, has apparently returned to the Premier League for a fee of £27 million, three years after completing a £30 million move to his boyhood side Barcelona. He has signed a five-year contract at Stamford Bridge. It must be a sickening sensation for followers of the Gunners.
Fabregas always suggested that Barca were the only club who could have prised him from Arsenal in 2011 so his statement relating to the move was understandable. It certainly places a few question marks over the thought process of Wenger, who is nothing if not unpredictable.
"I do feel that I have unfinished business in the Premier League and now is the right time for me to return," he said on his Facebook page. "Yes, everyone knows that Arsenal had the first option to sign me. They decided not to take this option and therefore it wasn't meant to be. I wish them well in the future."
How did it come to pass that Arsenal's once revered captain is now going to turn out for their bitter foes from across London? It was public knowledge that Arsenal had first option to bring Fabregas back to Arsenal when he departed at the time.
The ball was firmly in their court to land a technically immaculate attacking midfield force who played 303 games and scored 57 goals in an Arsenal shirt between 2003 and 2011, but they decided against it. For better or worse, they decided Fabregas was not worth pursuing a year after they felt Mesut Ozil was value for money at £42 million from Real Madrid. Would you prefer to have Ozil or Fabregas? It is a moot point.
“I will always be an Arsenal fan,” said Fabregas when he departed Arsenal three years ago while comparing Wenger to his father. Well, now he has been adopted by a second father.
It was also public knowledge in this office a week ago that the deal to join Chelsea had been ratified. The body language and words Jose Mourino regarding Fabregas on one of his videos for these pages confirmed the transfer. Gerard Pique let the move slip within the Spain camp on the same day.
For Mourinho, it is almost going back to what he knew best from his first period at Chelsea. Where once he had Michael Essien, Claude Makelele and Frank Lampard, now he has Cesc Fabregas, Nemanja Matic, Ramires and Eden Hazard in his midfield. He has options.
As a deal it may well be the most contentious of the summer transfer window. Perhaps not the loftiest, but certainly the most poignant.
Mourinho likes to play mind games. This may yet to be a pivotal win for Chelsea over Arsenal – and perhaps Manchester United – without playing a match.
Or it may not be. It all depends on what Wenger comes up with now that Fabregas has made his statement. Mourinho made his statement of intent without saying anything.
There are claims that Arsenal will use their transfer budget to go after Koke of Atletico Madrid or Paul Pogba of Juventus while the Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema has also been touted. But do they sound any brighter than recapturing Fabregas?
Wenger traditionally leaves his business late in the close season. There is a renewed pressure on him to get it right after opting against Cesc.
It almost reminds one of the time Gordon Brown became British Prime Minister after Tony Blair departed in 2007. With the honeymoon period fresh and Brown at the turn of a new page in history, the chance of a new five-year term in office could have been seized. But Brown hesitated, and decided against calling a General Election. Momentum was lost, and he was ejected as leader.
Wenger must hope his decision to reject Fabregas does not see him go the same way.
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- Cesc Fabregas
- Arsene Wenger