After years of coveting, and consequently tapping up, our captain and best player, Barcelona finally have their man. The 15th of August 2011 will live long in the memory; it is undoubtedly one of those moments where people will remember where they were and what they were doing when they found out about it. Once Cesc passed the medical and signed on the dotted line there was almost an audible collective sigh of relief from people affected by this transfer. Supporters of the respective teams, journalists and general football lovers can now all move on. A transfer saga, completely unparalleled (both in duration and relentlessness) in the history of modern football, has finally come to its inevitable happy conclusion. But for me – and I suspect I’m far from alone here – there was an overwhelming and slightly surreal feeling of sadness. Even though we all knew it would happen I couldn’t help but feel devastated. Like a dear friend had moved away, never to return.
However, I’ll always remember him fondly and treasure the memories I have of him; his goals against Spurs, his inspiring performance away at Stoke after Aaron had his leg broken (those who say he wasn’t a good captain – take a look at that game one more time), the winner in the San Siro and the general quality of his play. Match after match, year after year. It’s been a privilege to watch him and I’m thankful for every one of his 303 appearances in an Arsenal shirt.
Sure, it’s hard to take that he’s now a part of our (largely unsuccessful) past, but I don’t begrudge him this move. We all know where he’s from, who he supported as a young boy and who the current best team in the world is. The answer to those three questions is Barcelona. Nevertheless, I think he’s behaved impeccably throughout this ordeal, because it could’ve been easy for him to submit a formal transfer request (Torres, Rooney, Tevez) and further complicate things for Arsenal by moaning. But he did none of this. His comments on Arsenal upon being unveiled as a Barcelona player simply highlighted the class he has. He loves Arsenal, our fans and our manager. I really do wish him well. I had to overlook the fact that I despise Barcelona enough to have made a voodoo doll of Busquets that I occasionally like to run over with a lawn mower in order to do it, but I wish him well. I hope you do too. The man deserves it.
Disturbing and slightly morbid pseudo-witchcraft aside, we’re now left with a gifted and talented team with a massive, gaping Cesc-shaped hole in the middle of it. He was more than just a good man, he was an exceptional footballer too. Stats show that Cesc has made the most assists in the top 5 European leagues over the last 5 seasons. More than Xavi, Iniesta or any of those pass virtuosos he is often compared to. If you keep in mind that he’s missed many games, arguably plays in a weaker team but in a stronger league and that he was a teenager 5 seasons ago it’s all the more astonishing. He creates by far the most goal scoring chances and to many outsiders he’s the symbol of our club. Our win percentage without him is half of what it is compared to when he plays. He’s the genius our side is built around; the very embodiment of Arsène Wengers project and philosophy. We cannot possibly buy a player to replace him.
So, we now find ourself pondering the question; How do you replace Fàbregas? Can we manage it? Of course we can. Many big players have left us – after 125 glorious years of history you’re bound to have a few examples – and yet we always move on. Brady, Overmars, Vieira, Henry. Nobody is bigger than Arsenal. When a team becomes too dependant on a single player it can inhibit the rest of the team, and they only reach their potential once that one outstanding individual departs. Manchester United replaced Ronaldo without buying a like for like replacement – the rest of the team upped their game and contributed with goals. Something similar happened to Arsenal when Henry left. Adebayor and Fàbregas, among others, stepped up then, and now I feel that we have the players to replace Cesc without paying exorbitant fees for a star player.
There will be no prizes for guessing who those aforementioned players are. Those players are Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere. Ramsey will improve the more he plays and Wilshere, given his tender years, will too – scarily enough. I think Wenger will eventually succumb to the cries of the masses and buy a player. We are a bit short in midfield, and for a supposedly creative team we do lack incisive passers. Cesc shouldered a disproportionate amount of the creative burden. But it’s of vital importance to nurture and develop those two and unleash them on the Premiership this season. They have the potential to not only form an outstanding partnership in midfield, but also, individually, become genuine world class players. They’re our future now and, I have to say, I can’t wait to experience it.
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