As the temperature heats up around Cesc`s apparent desire to move to Barcelona sooner rather than later we find ourselves back on ground we`ve trodden before. Vieira flirted with Real Madrid for a couple of summers before Arsenal finally agreed he could fulfil his dream move. Unfortunately Vieira frustratingly decided against the move at the eleventh hour. Wenger and Dein put a brave face on it but must have been cursing their luck as a reported £25m plus turned into something like half that figure after Patrick ambled through the following season before finally being moved on to Italy.
Anelka caused a similar feeling of opportunity lost when he too insisted on a move after the club had appeared to be prepared to invest a great deal in building the team with him as its spearhead. Much as we feel that some players can`t be replaced a good team can accommodate such losses and still compete. It`s often the case that the team makes the players as much as the players make the team.
Whether Cesc goes now and how much we can profit from his departure depends on the strength of the contract he has. If he is within the 3 year protected period then the club holds just enough aces to be able to play with a decent hand and to squeeze the maximum from a potential buyer. We know that he signed an 8 year contract in 2006 but the 3 year protected period would have expired last summer unless he has renewed it since. After that 3 year period there isn`t a great deal that can be done to prevent a determined player from leaving no matter how many years unprotected period the contract has left. There are reports that he renewed in 2008/2009 and that significant payments were made not to extend the original term but to renew the protected period of his contract. If this is the case then that protected period will not expire until next summer at the earliest.
Even if the contract handcuffs are strong, and Wenger suggested in a press conference recently that they were, keeping a player whose heart and mind is elsewhere may not be the best decision. In Cesc`s case it is a little tougher a decision for Wenger because the team has been built around him over the last 4 or 5 seasons. Whereas Henry, Vieira, Pires, Arshavin and others were pieces of a jigsaw, albeit key pieces in many cases, Fabregas has been shaped as the box that all the other pieces are put into.
Wenger would have known that the day would come when Cesc would go and might have had a time span in mind which was probably sometime beyond this summer. Looking at some stats for last season it`s easy to imagine that he might have seen Aaron Ramsey as the successor. He possesses many of the characteristics now that Cesc has developed a little later. His passing frequency and success rate is well up in Fabregas territory and while his assists and attempts created figures aren`t there yet they are more than credible given his experience so far at this level. But this is a summer too soon for Aaron and though maybe next summer would also be earlier than ideal, if he recovers from his injury in the autumn as anticipated, he will at least have had the opportunity to build on his experience.
So, if the contract is strong enough to keep Cesc here, would that be the best decision? So much of our play goes through Cesc now, arguably far too much, and we don`t have the players to replicate that creative dependence. It would either have to be spread around what we do have but would almost certainly still come up short or we would have to find a replacement externally to help plug the inevitable creative deficit. How quickly we can find that recruit will determine whether it`s a good idea to take Barcelona for as much as we can now and invest it in the team or hold on for another season. It won`t be an easy task but not an impossible one either.
It`s easy to think that Cesc`s desire to move is somehow our own fault. That it reveals some weakness at the club in being unable to retain players like Cesc. That this is a direct consequence of our failure to win trophies. But leading the team to an unbeaten season didn`t prevent Patrick Vieira from going a long way down the road to leaving the club for greener pastures anymore than the trophies galore Cristiano Ronaldo earned as a Manchester United player could prevent him from making a lifestyle choice that frankly most of us would see as pretty attractive. It’s just the reality of the modern age of player contracts and player mobility I’m afraid.
Losing Cesc now, if that is what is to happen, would be a blow, there can be no doubt about that, but it won`t be a fatal one. If we re-invest quickly and wisely, if the opportunity is there that is, we will still be able to compete no less successfully than we have done over the last 5 years – hopefully more so. And maybe we`ll even be able to acquire some other qualities that the team has been missing in that time. No one`s irreplaceable really.
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