In a desperate attempt to rake in hits, the Daily Mail today reports that Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has left the club’s pre-season tour of Australia in an attempt to "push through a move for Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fàbregas". According to the Mail, United "are confident" that Cesc Fàbregas is indeed interested in swapping the sunny climes of Barcelona for miserable Manchester and that a bid in excess of £30 million could persuade the Blaugrana to part with their number four.
And unfortunately, the Mail aren’t the only media outlet in England reporting on this story, The Sun, Sky Sports, the Guardian -- among others – are all following the same script, insisting that not only is Fàbregas tempted by a move to Manchester United, but that Barcelona (despite losing Thiago Alcântara) are also willing to sell.
Who knows? Maybe they are right? After all, they wouldn’t publish these stories without concrete evidence would they?
The Guardian – "Barcelona need the money"
In order to justify their baseless headline that Barcelona are in fact willing to sell Cesc Fàbregas, the Guardian claim that "Barça need the cash", especially "having spent lavishly on Neymar". And I suppose at face value, that would be enough for your average reader – Neymar cost €57 million after all.
However, it’s not quite as straight-forward as that, Neymar did cost €57 million, although a quick glance at last year’s Annual Report demonstrates that Barcelona actually set aside €40 million for a future purchase last season (2011/12), a purchase that was later revealed to be Neymar. So, given that Barcelona already came into this summer with €40 million to spend on Neymar, they only actually spent €17 million from this year’s budget on his signing – which "coincidentally" supports these documents, leaked by Globoesporte.
So, if Barcelona "only" spent €17 million on Neymar (from this year’s budget), it’s safe to say that the subsequent sale of Thiago Alcântara, for a sum of €25 million (€22 million of which is believed to be "fixed", €2 million of which is believed to be "bonuses" and the remaining €1 million covers a friendly match) has more than covered our outlay on Neymar. Even the Brazilian’s wages are a non-issue given the departure of both David Villa and Eric Abidal.
Still, the Guardian continue with this clearly inaccurate narrative, based on a brief conversation with a "highly-placed source in Spain", pointing out that Barcelona have spent massive amounts in recent seasons – as in addition to Neymar’s move, we gave Lionel Messi a new contract at a total cost of £85 million (or £17 million over five years).
Probably true (although Barça never confirm exact salaries) – but given that Lionel Messi was previously earning (a reported) €16 million per year, this only represents a €3-4 million pay rise for the Argentine striker – a pay rise that is again offset by the departures of both Eric Abidal (rumoured to earn at least €4.3 million per year at the Camp Nou) and Thiago Alcântara (rumoured to earn €2.5 million per year). So much for that costing Barcelona any extra money.
But wait! There’s more!
In 2011, The Guardian correctly point out that Barcelona spent in excess of £50 million on Cesc Fàbregas and Alexis Sánchez – and just look at the "dreadful" effect it had on our finances: compared to the previous season, Barcelona actually reduced their wage bill by €11 million, reduced their net debt by €67 million and year on year, reduced their losses by €71 million.
Also notice how the Guardian conveniently leave last season’s transfer window out of the discussion, because the £30 million outlay doesn’t fit into their "over-spending" Barça narrative...
The Guardian – "Cesc Fàbregas is unhappy about being played out of position"
This is one of my personal favourites, purely because it contradicts with two other "reasons" cited by other English media outlets. Apparently, Fàbregas is unhappy about being played out of position. So desperately unhappy in fact that the past two seasons has seen his goal average (discounting the 2003-04 season at Arsenal) sky-rocket from 8 to 14.5, and his assist average increase from 14.2 to 16. In fact, his past two seasons at Barcelona have been some of the best of his career, statistically speaking – and clearly, seeing such quantitative improvements in his own game has left Fàbregas horribly disillusioned with his role at Barcelona. I mean, who really likes to score goals?
Daily Mail – "Fàbregas seeks crunch talks with Tito Vilanova over Neymar arrival"
A story that was run way back in June has cropped up again, with several United fans erroneously claiming that Neymar’s arrival puts Fàbregas’ future into doubt. In fact, some have gone as far as claiming that Neymar even plays in the same position as Cesc. Maybe Neymar has been secretly learning how to play in midfield? Otherwise, I see no problems.
Neymar plays in attack; often behind the striker, or as a "false nine", although he’s equally adept at cutting in from the left-flank, a role he is almost certain to fill with Barcelona. While he will not hug the touchline like many other wingers, his nominal position will be on the left-wing, or at least in the offensive triumvirate. Cesc Fàbregas on the other hand is a midfielder, yet, in the absence of Lionel Messi, he’s proved himself as a decent centre-forward, filling in as Barça’s false nine as and when required.
So, the only way that Fàbregas can play in the same position as Neymar is if both are vying for the false nine role, but of course, neither would win that starting place because you know, Lionel Messi still exists. Ergo, unless we’re planning on a catastrophic injury striking Messi down, these two are not competing with each other – and even if Messi did (God forbid) get injured, Fàbregas would probably move into attack with Neymar continuing on the "left-wing". Or, perhaps Neymar would move into the centre of attack, with Andrés Iniesta moving forward to the left-flank, creating space in midfield for Fàbregas – either way, it’s difficult to envisage Neymar’s arrival impacting on Fàbregas’ minutes, especially now that Thiago has left the club.
Oh, and just a note – why would Fàbregas be upset about the arrival of Neymar if they were only competing with each other for an attacking role – a role that the Guardian suggest Fàbregas is unhappy to play in? Puzzling...
Multiple – "Fàbregas is unhappy about his playing time"
With 48 appearances in each of his two seasons at Barcelona, Fàbregas hasn’t played this many matches in a single season since 2006-2007. It also means that Fàbregas played in as many matches last season as both Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta, and in total, Fàbregas only played approximately 400 and 300 minutes less, than his two colleagues, over the course of the season. In 2011/12, Fàbregas even made more appearances than Andrés Iniesta, and also played more minutes. So, forgive me if I find it a little difficult to picture Fàbregas complaining about a lack of minutes.
Multiple (albeit inferred) – Fàbregas would turn down Arsenal in favour of a move to United
Let’s assume for one moment that Fàbregas is leaving – as Arsenal reportedly have a first-option to resign him, would Fàbregas really turn down Arsenal for Manchester United, and why? Apparently, he would. Why? Well, according to many, it’s because he wants to win trophies. Arsenal haven’t made any progress on that front, so clearly, United is the place to be, isn’t it?
They are the current Premier League champions, but with Sir Alex Ferguson gone, there is a suggestion that United’s glory years are behind them. His replacement David Moyes after all has won fewer trophies than Arsenal in the past decade – and while the circumstances and budget constraints at Everton, Arsenal and Manchester United are different, the fact remains that Moyes is not a "born-winner", like Sir Alex Ferguson clearly was. And without reinforcements, Moyes’ squad is hardly the best in the league. While both Chelsea and Manchester City have spent vast sums improving their squads, and indeed their managers, United have moved in the opposite direction, downgrading their coach, and are now seemingly on the verge of losing one of their more talented players. After all, all joking aside, losing a player of Rooney’s calibre is unlikely to be helpful for United, especially if they cannot identify a feasible replacement.
So, as a result of this summer of change, its Chelsea and Manchester City, not Manchester United, who look best positioned to make a run at the title, while the UEFA Champions League is at best, a dream for United. On the other hand, if Fàbregas stays at Barcelona, he knows that he has a realistic shot at La Liga, and at least a better chance of lifting the UEFA Champions League –with his boyhood club, where he is amongst lifelong friends.
Leaving aside the rumours, the journalists should look at the facts, and ask themselves what they would do in Cesc Fàbregas’ shoes. At least that way we would have one less baseless rumour to contend with...