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Cesc Fabregas Saga Shows Loyalty Is Gone In The Modern Game

It was a strange sight in North London when Cesc Fabregas returned to the Emirates in late April wearing the hated blue of Chelsea. The indecision from the crowd was palpable throughout the match as to whether to cheer or boo their former-captain and hero. Aside from the lengthy debate concerning whether Arsene Wenger should stay or go, nothing has polarized the Arsenal faithful as much as the question of how to view Cesc Fabregas now that he is a Chelsea player.

The circumstances surrounding Fabregas’ transfer from Barcelona to Chelsea last summer are peculiar, but that should not cloud the minds of Arsenal fans. Fabregas forced a move from Arsenal and now plays for their direct rivals in the same city. Accordingly, he should receive a level of derision from fans comparable to other defectors Arsenal fans love to hate such as Samir Nasri, Robin van Persie and Emmanuel Adebayor.

A quick, objective review of the facts is needed to set the scene. Fabregas was plucked from the Barcelona youth system by Wenger at age 16 and quickly became the youngest player to feature for the Gunners’ first team and the youngest Arsenal goal-scorer. Impressive records to hold at a club renowned for giving youth a chance to shine on the big stage.

Fabregas impressed at Arsenal from the start and experienced a meteoric rise under Wenger’s guidance, featuring in the 2006 Champions League final at age 18 and becoming club captain at age 21. During his eight seasons at Arsenal, Fabregas featured over 300 times, developed into one of the premier central-midfielders in the world and became a crowd-favorite.  But he found trophies hard to come by, winning only the 2004-2005 FA cup with club.

Fabregas’ final two seasons at Arsenal will likely be most remembered as one long, continuous transfer drama. Fabregas longed to return to his boyhood club, Barcelona, but Wenger was reluctant to sell his prized midfielder, whom he had spent so much time grooming.  The entire spectacle was extremely stressful for Arsenal fans, but Fabregas allayed their fears by telling the Spanish magazine Don Balon in 2011, "If someday I leave Arsenal, it will never be to sign for another English team. I'm very sure."

In August 2011, Arsenal, in need of money to help finance the recently built Emirates Stadium, sold Fabregas to Barcelona for a fee in the range of €39 million, which included a right of first refusal for Arsenal to buy back Fabregas if and when Barcelona decided to sell him. Fabregas spent three fairly productive seasons at Barcelona, winning several trophies, but was eventually deemed surplus to requirements by the team with undoubtedly the strongest midfield in the world.

In June 2014, Barcelona sold Fabregas to Chelsea for €33 million. But wait, didn’t Arsenal have the first option to sign Fabregas? And didn’t he say he would never play for another team in England? Here is where the picture gets messy and Arsenal fans’ opinions split.

For the Arsenal fans who cheered Fabregas during his recent return to the Emirates, their argument went something like this: Fabregas was a legend at the club and was a loyal servant to Arsenal for eight seasons and left only to return to his home and boyhood club of Barcelona, who just so happened to be the best team in the world. Fabregas wanted to return to Arsenal in 2014, but Wenger declined the option to buy him back due to already having a glut of central midfielders including Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil.  Even though Fabregas said he would never play for another English team, he realized that Chelsea was the perfect fit for him as it would allow him to compete for major trophies, earn a sizeable salary, and enable he and his family to return to London - the city they had come to know and love during his time at Arsenal. These fans further argued that Fabregas has two clubs he loves, Arsenal and Barcelona, and if he couldn’t play for either of them, he had to make a business/career decision. Fabregas was Spanish, he loved Arsenal, but he did not hate Chelsea as much as the typical English Arsenal fan living in London does, and thus his return to London in Chelsea blue was acceptable.

Those who heckled Fabregas at the Emirates subscribe to a different theory.  They feel that Fabregas, having won only one trophy at Arsenal, could hardly be considered a legend that deserves unconditional respect at a club with such a rich history. His last name was not Henry, Bergkamp, Adams, or Wright, Arsenal legends all. And let’s not forget, Fabregas left the club under unceremonious terms, with speculation swirling that he missed Arsenal’s 2011 pre-season tour because he was on strike to force a move to Barcelona. The timing of the move to Barcelona was less than ideal for Arsenal as well. The club was at their most vulnerable in recent memory during the summer of 2011, losing Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri to Manchester City the same Summer and desperately needing the revenue from qualifying for Champions League football to help pay off their stadium debts, but that did not seem to concern Fabregas who wanted out regardless.

The ill will from these fans continued three years after when Fabregas chose Chelsea - a rival who plays their games less than ten miles from Arsenal, a rival who are the antithesis of Arsenal in terms of club and footballing philosophies - after stating he would never play for another team in England. It’s too much for this segment of Arsenal fans to bear.

Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho, in typical fashion, added fuel to the fire by stating,  “As you know Arsenal had an option where they could interfere but I think he was not open to that. He was very much in our direction. It was an easy job for me,” suggesting that Fabregas was not interested in an Arsenal return in the first place. Not exactly what Arsenal fans were hoping to hear about their former captain.

Many Arsenal supporters are waiting to pass judgement on Fabregas after hearing an interesting quote from Arsene Wenger during his press conference prior to the Chelsea game in late April. Wenger revealed that there is more to the story than him simply declining his option to buy back his former talisman by saying, "We will have to discuss that one day what happened, with all the terms. It is not as clean as that. I cannot speak to you about that [reasons] now because that will not help us to win the game on Sunday. This is not the right time."

Yet, there is little reason to withhold judgment until Wenger tells his full story.

The facts remain that Fabregas, Mourinho and Chelsea won the league with ease this season, including effectively sealing the title by grinding out a 0-0 stalemate at the Emirates for the second consecutive season, smiling smugly while chants of “boring, boring Chelsea” cascaded down from the Arsenal fans. Wenger again failed to beat Mourinho in their two meetings this season, making him winless in 13 attempts against his nemesis, thanks in part to a delightful, defense-splitting 50-yard assist from Fabregas to Diego Costa to seal a win for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in October. Fabregas has had a tremendous season and sits two assists shy of breaking Arsenal legend Thierry Henry’s record for most assists in a Premier League season with two games remaining. Despite Mourinho’s promise to play a younger squad in the final two games having already clinched the title, it would not be surprising to see him try to stick it to Wenger and Arsenal one more time and deploy Fabregas in an advanced midfield role to try to snatch one of the Premier League’s most coveted records from the hands of Arsenal via their former captain.

For Arsenal fans, the choice should be clear: unite and treat Fabregas like a villain and focus their energy on finding a way to stop the Chelsea juggernaut, who will again be favorites for the Premier League title next season, thanks in large part to one Cesc Fabregas. Boo that man!

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