Allow me the luxury of furnishing you with a news story from some 2665 days ago; that’s seven and a bit years. Those famous FA Cup sluggers Blackburn Rovers and Arsenal faced off and, as has become customary, the Lancashire side gave the Gunners a bit of a shock, and it ended 0-0.
That displeased Arsenal generally, but particularly one hot-headed Spaniard amongst their ranks. I’ll pass over to Rovers’ manager Mark Hughes for the full lowdown.
“When we shook hands at the end, the young man asked me a question which I thought was disrespectful. He asked me if I had played for Barcelona and when I said yes, he shook his head as if in disbelief. Then he said, ‘Well, that wasn’t Barcelona football.’”
The fact the Welshman followed it up by pointing out that he’d played in more FA Cup Finals than the youngster in question, Cesc Fabregas, and thus warranted more respect, was a curious one, but we’ll gloss over that.
It’s an aspect of Fabregas I’ve always carried with me, and I’ve struggled to warm to him. It was no surprise when he went back to Barcelona, but I have to admit some of the football he played there was a pleasure. Clearly, this is a man who was brought up in Barcelona’s system, has come to regard it as the only way to play the game, and thrived within it.
Yet there’s something in that attitude that a team who tried to contain Arsenal were, in some way, not playing football that troubles me. To hear Xavi interviewed, there’s a difference there. Xavi believes completely in Barcelona’s system, but equally understands that there are alternatives – indeed, has even conceded that the introduction of other options may be of benefit; man cannot live by tiki-taka alone.
This summer, then, we are faced with the prospect of the great romantic of Catalan supremacy looking likely to make a move in order to secure first team football, but in doing so, will be joining forces with the most single-minded managers in the world, if not the most. It should be the ultimate clash of form over function but, already, there’s a pattern established.
Fabregas may well wow at Stamford Bridge. He may win over the supporters, he may ensure the collection of pots, trinkets and glory. He has that kind of ability. Eventually, though (and I assume on the continued stay of Mourinho here – something that is by no means certain), his manager will tire of him; he will grow weary of the fact that his sparkling creative brilliance means that his game lacks something in defence.
That Fabregas has gravitated towards Barcelona’s system, even when playing at Barcelona-lite Arsenal means that Mourinho’s highly disciplined style of play will be stifling for him. The philosophy of relative freedom that has been drummed into him will be eroded by the overlord of Stamford Bridge – the need for victory the shining beacon, while the manner of victory crashes onto the rocks below.
We can all see how it will play out. The Spaniard will be covertly criticised – maybe as a ‘new players not adapting as well as they might’ concept. Then he will be unfavoured in important games; or he’ll find himself picked for an FA Cup Fourth Round tie ahead of a Champions League game. Then he will find himself gradually frozen out of the team, ultimately hoisted by his own petard. Finally he will be sold. He will still c0mmand a large fee, and he will thrill wherever he goes, but by then he will be 30 or 31. His best days are behind him.
Cesc is now 27. This is his last blue-chip move. For Chelsea, it makes little sense for them to chew up and spit out another player in the vein of Mata; for Fabregas, it makes even less sense to be that player. Maybe only because to my mind, Mourinho can’t change his spots, this seems like a move that would be a three-year disaster for both parties, and yet a part of me, because of the way Fabregas reacted to Mark Hughes all those years ago, would be tickled inside.
I don’t like Fabregas. I don’t like Chelsea. The two together, though, is a story told many times. Only a fool repeats his actions and expects a different outcome.