Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cesc: Liberation Theory


It looks like the captain is set to finally get his move. His feelings are clear, and few would have any ill will towards him.

Barcelona stil refuse to pay the money they should. Arsenal apparently want 40 million, and in fairness, considering some of the prices we have seen paid in the last few years, and indeed this summer, for lesser players, 40 million should be a minimum asking price.

He is probably the best midfielder in the world outside of the Barcelona team. The irony being, he is going to the one place where he will not be guaranteed a starting place.

Of course, the last time Arsenal lost their "captain and best player" was with the departure of Thierry Henry in 2007, also to Barcelona. Despite the apparent enormity of this loss, and the lack of a marquee replacement (Eduardo da Silva was brought in), Arsenal were much better in 07/08 than in 06/07. They led the league table for much of the season, only to suffer the now-familiar implosion in the run-in. Throughout the season, there was a sense that players who had been happy playing second fiddle to the "star" of the team were now taking on more responsibility, and thriving.

Numerous individuals, and the team as a whole, showed massive improvement on the previous season.

So does this memory offer cause for cautious optimism in the face of Fabregas's impending flight?

It is certainly likely that some players have looked to Fabregas to win games for Arsenal, and been happy with their own smaller share of the responsibility. Fabregas is a ceaselessly creative player and the onus was always on him to make the chances, despite the fact that Arsenal have plenty more players who would call themselves "creative midfielders".

In the space Henry left up front in 2007, Adebayor came into his own, transforming himself from an often frustrating, clumsy forward into a strong, pacey goal machine a la Drogba. Could one of Arsenal's remaining midfielders step up in similar fashion after Fabregas leaves? There will certainly be high hopes for Wilshere and Ramsey, and this may make Wenger reluctant to splash cash on an obvious, direct replacement for the Spaniard.

But overall, the expectation has to be that Arsenal will struggle without their skipper. The nucleus of players at the Emirates now is not as strong as it was in 2007. And let's not forget that Fabregas himself was already an outstanding player despite his youth. He made huge strides at the time, adding goals to his trademark vision. He was helped by the fact that Mathieu Flamini made amazing progress, from a squad player to a midfield lynchpin. Much will depend now on whether one of our current "squad players" can show the kind of desire to improve that Flamini did. Diaby? Denilson? I don't think so. Perhaps Alex Song will continue his steady progress, but the suspicion is that Arsenal need an injection of true grit in the centre of the pitch.

Fundamental to this debate is the difference in personality between Henry and Fabregas. Neither could be called natural leaders, but Henry was often an unpleasant, overbearing character and this certainly affected team mates at times. Just ask Jose Reyes.

Fabregas is just as talismanic a figure as Henry was, but he does not have the rampaging ego, and was never seen berating or staring down team mates. You could say that oftentimes, the team played for Henry, but Fabregas always played for the team. His vision and passing ability invite comparison to Dennis Bergkamp- they share a status as the kind of players who make lesser team mates look better.

In other words, while some players may have been secretly pleased with Henry's departure, it is hard to imagine anyone waving good riddance to Cesc Fabregas. Will they choose to wallow, as they so often do, or will be the catalyst for a revival in some stagnating careers? Over to you, Arshavin, Diaby, Denilson etc.

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