Not many players leave Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal and thrive.
Look at Alex Hleb.
The ‘new George Best’ sold his soul for a Mr Whippy with extra sprinkles and quickly went from Barcelona to the heady heights of Birmingham FC.
Now, still owned by Barca but not wanted by anyone, he floats in the footballing ether, dribbling in mazy circles to nowhere and declining clear shooting opportunities to his heart’s content.
Matthieu Flamini, after finally having a good season at Arsenal, showed all the loyalty of a two bob hooker and decamped for Milan. One of his main gripes was that he had been forced to play so many games at Arsenal as a left back.
No such problem with the Rossoneri. They played him at right back instead.
Thierry Henry won some gongs when he joined Barcelona, but he was literally a peripheral figure (pushed back out to the wings, from where Arsene had rescued him all those years earlier). A classy, brilliant player, but no-one can doubt that we got the best of him and sold him when his decline had started.
Now he’s some kind of showman in the Americas, wearing a Stetson and juggling footballs on the back of a rodeo bull while toting a Colt 45 or somesuch.
Patrick Vieira? Like Henry he was too good to vanish into obscurity. However, when he moved to Italy he had the bittersweet experience of winning numerous medals – but only as a bit part player. When he stumbled across the ATM that never stops churning out ten pound notes (otherwise known as Man City), who can blame him for retiring to its warm dressing rooms and well varnished benches?
Ljungberg, Pires, Adebayor, Reyes, Petit, Overmars… I could go on, but the point is: Arsene knows when it’s time to let a player go. In most cases it is when he has judged that their performances have crested the zenith. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad, just that they will never quite reach their peak again and will, in fact, decline.
Even those he has been forced to sell reluctantly, like Flamini and Anelka, have never subsequently had the central, starring roles they had at Arsenal.
So what about Cesc?
Have we seen the best of El Capitan? When he leaves us will it be for a few tortured years of bench-sitting at Barcelona, plagued by ever-worsening hamstrings and haunted by the curious longevity of the Xavi-Iniesta partnership, still winning the Primera Liga well into their thirities?
Will we Arsenal fans nod sagely to each other and repeat the mantra that players just never do as well when they leave us?
DON’T BE STUPID.
Cesc Fabregas is one of the best four or five players in the world. I would put Messi and Ronaldo ahead of him, but after that…? The man is a genius. Of course he is going to have a marvelous career at Barcelona. If he is not a regular first team starter by January London will eat his red-and-white socks*.
And yet, you say, your headline referred to him rueing the day he leaves Arsenal. If he goes on to win Spanish title after Copa del Ray after Champions League what will there be to regret? What tears will little Francesc possibly shed?
Let me tell you.
Cesc will rue the day he leaves because when this Arsenal team, whose talisman he has been for so long, finally starts to win the big prizes without him it will pierce his heart with the brilliant sharpness of one of his incredible passes through the Totteringham defence.
If Arsenal win the league this year – and I am one of those who believes it is a real possibility – then Cesc will be disconsolate. It will be a failure for him that will live with him throughout his career and his life.
He will have given eight years of his life to a project – and not just any project, but a glorious, ambitious, eyes-on-the-stars kind of project – and then walked away just before it reached its crowning glory. It would be as if Neil Armstrong got to the Moon’s orbit and said: “You know what, I’m fine, I’ll just stay here in Apollo 11 and look out the window…”
Never mind whether he has a championship medal in Spain, a Champions League title and has been chosen as Miss Catalunia 2013, there will be a hole in Cesc’s soul that will never be filled.
He will rejoice for his erstwhile teammates, but deep down he will know that he should have been with them. And for that, I will grieve with him.
*That’s OK isn’t it London?