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UEFA Champions League: How FC Barcelona robbed Arsenal FC and Udinese

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I'm certain all of you have read a lot about both these players (Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez) over the last year or so. Like many other FC Barcelona fans, I had reservations about the pair, at one point or another. However, this isn't an editorial about whether their acquisitions were/are a solid investment nor is it addressing Barca’s code of conduct during the negotiations. This entry is going to explain how important these players were to their previous teams and how the Blaugrana signed these players at, what can only be seen as, below their (true) market value.

 

Cesc Fabregas

I want to present facts as well as my personal opinion on certain matters pertaining to the two teams in question i.e Arsenal F.C and Udinese Calcio, so that you (the reader) may have the necessary information to form your own opinion.

As fate would have it, Arsenal and Udinese (being 4th in their respective leagues last year) meet for the 2nd leg of the Champions League qualifiers tonight (Wednesday, 24th August). Obviously, only one of them will advance to the group stages.

Over the last couple of weeks, I've had the pleasure of watching the Gunners in the post-Fabregas era, against teams of varying talents and stature, namely: - Newcastle United, Liverpool F.C and the aforementioned Udinese side. When I say pleasure, I mean it in a slightly sadistic manner. I did derive some of that pleasure because the Gunners deserve their current (mis)fortune. Arsene Wenger (the longest-serving manager of the club but probably not for long) seems to have let his ego dictate Arsenal’s transfer policy at the expense of common sense. In his stoic and stubborn posture on transfers, he has inadvertently degraded Arsenal into a selling club. An institution he professes (no pun intended) to love, wholeheartedly, I might add. Allow me to redirect your attention upon certain facts that arguably cannot be disputed.

Forbes, a highly reliable (business) magazine, has ranked Arsenal as the 3rd richest club (FC Barcelona is 5th on that list) in the world after Manchester United and Real Madrid.

Contrary to popular belief, Arsenal is doesn’t have any notable cash-flow problems, if any at all, and has arguably the most balanced account books among the top tier clubs. Valued at $1.048 billion with an estimated annual revenue of $336 million, Arsenal has also one of the most expensive admission prices in the business (considering the enduring trophy drought and lack of heavy investment in the squad, absolutely not justified).

With that kind of money and an estimated transfer fund of 90 million quid (theoretically enough to buy Cristiano Ronaldo), Wenger simply doesn’t have an excuse for not buying an adequate Fabregas replacement. As for the prodigal son, any Gooner who is still under the impression that the team can win the EPL without him, well- "denial is not a river in Egypt". Over the last three years (08/09, 09/10, 10/11) he has made 33, 36 and 35 appearances respectively. In those three years he was, without an iota of doubt, the best player in the team and has contributed a total of 31 goals and 51 assists! To say that he's a world class talent would be redundant by now. In his 303 appearances for the club he has scored 57 goals and provided 100 assists, exceeding Xavi and Andres Iniesta’s combined goal haul over the same time span. Nonetheless, I won't go down that road and draw comparisons between him and the best midfield players in the world but if we were to talk about the third on that list? It can only be Fabregas.

However, there’s another dimension to Cesc’s game than just the goals and the assists. At Arsenal, considering that they don't have a Xavi or Iniesta, Cesc was the lynchpin, the composer and the real friggin' deal. Almost all Arsenal attacks started at his boots. Sure, Samir Nasri had a great season (his first of that quality) but let's be honest, he wasn't the same player in the second half of that season. Robin Van Persie is the other star player of the team and although the Dutchman is a supremely gifted talent, he is equally as prone to injury. The Gunners without Cesc and RvP are simply not the same outfit. Cesc was playing a Xavi-cum-Iniesta role for the London based team, in that, he would control the game. Like Van Persie, Cesc has had a few injuries, mainly restricted to his hamstring. But if not for Arsenal's questionable medical staff, it would be safe to assume that the club could have counted on both its star plays far more often as they have in the past. Being the team's captain and most talented player, one cannot blame the fans to demand to see him play 50+ games in a season.

After watching the games against Newcastle and Liverpool, I was left with a funny feeling. A feeling that said two things 1) They deserved it, it is Wenger's and the board's fault for what's happening to a club that once produced a team known as 'The Invincibles'. 2) The new look, post-Cesc, squad performed admirably, under the circumstances to get away with a draw and a 0-2 defeat at the hands of the Reds. Against Newcastle, anybody could see that the spark was missing in midfield. That killer through ball, that over head pass which can be likened to a radar guided missile, which only Fabregas was capable of producing. With Jack Wilshere injured, a team, once revered for their prowess in midfield looked - dead. The game against Liverpool should have driven that point further, in my opinion. The Reds had not beaten the Gunners at their own ground since 2000!

History backed Arsenal but any neutral football fan could see that history was not going to repeat itself. With Theo Walcott, RvP and Gervinho, Arsenal's frontline still look formidable or at best 'capable'. But without Cesc, there isn't anybody to deliver the ball to the opponents box. Samir Nasri, who recently moved to Manchester City F.C, was the only player who could have allowed the team to make a gradual transition from 'before Cesc' to 'after Cesc' but he was looking for a one-way ticket up North and couldn't be relied on for the rest of the season.

Pep Guardiola, with his brilliant management skills, knew how much quality a player like Cesc could bring to a team like Barca. The Blaugrana already have the best midfielders in the world and yet, saw that the team can only improve with Cesc in the squad. FC Barcelona’s new number 4 proved his worth just by playing 10 minutes in the Super Copa and against Napoli (Joan Gamper Trophy). At an estimated value of 35 million plus another 5 million in variables, Cesc Fabregas could turn out to be the buy of the season across any league! Sandro Rosell has claimed that Barca will only pay 29 million upfront, at that price, the world can only see it as day-light robbery by Barca (as a fan, I'm lovin it!). If it weren't for the fact that Cesc only wanted to join only Barcelona, you may rest assured that a bidding war would have started which would have seen Arsenal get around £50 million ATLEAST, for a player who would walk into the starting XI of any big club in Europe.

Arsenal is standing with its back against the wall and should consider themselves extremely lucky to go to Italy with a win. If Real Madrid's players’ rants are anything to go by, Udinese having been the better team in the 1st leg, deserved to win. I think they stand a better chance of qualifying and if I were a gambler, I would bet on the Italian side to qualify for the group stages of the 2011/2012 Champions League. They  traveled to London with a squad recently depleted of its best player, Alexis Sanchez. Ironically enough, Sanchez too moved to FC Barcelona. Still the Italian side looked the more dangerous of the two and were, to put it simply, unlucky.

Some would say that Barca’s recent transfer record over the last few years has been bad, but I think this year's signings will change that perception. At 26 million (excluding bonuses and variables), Alexis has already convinced me of his worth. With virtues which include pace, shooting skills, power and supreme dribbling skills, Sanchez has all the potential required to establish himself as a fans favorite. Pep has already praised him for his humility (something, I strongly believe, all Barca players must have. The Blaugrana doesn’t have room, and money, for another Ibraflop) and his versatility. Alexis can play anywhere up front and is exactly what FC Barcelona need to set up an effective rotation system.

 

Palermo - Udinese 27.02.2011 Alexis Sanchez 4 goles


Another aspect of his game is his natural tendency to track back and help out in defense. If you have read some of my previous work, I explored the quality that Alexis brings to the squad but he can add much more than that. In fact, he has shown glimpses of what he is capable of with Udinese last year. In his breakthrough season, Sanchez scored 12 goals in 33 appearances which included 4 goals in a 7-0 thrashing of Palermo. Even more impressive, he played only 52 minutes in that game! Now holding the record for maximum goals scored in a single match by a Chilean player, he went on to form a phenomenal striking partnership with Antonio Di Natale and the duo scored 39 goals in the 2010/2011 season. Considering that Serie A is widely known as the most defensive league in Europe, that statistic makes Sanchez a genuine revelation.

 

 

Udinese, to their credit, looked better than Arsenal in the 1st leg without Sanchez and one can only imagine what the scoreline would have been had he featured. Alexis Sanchez adds a lot because of his work rate and is more than capable of creating space to either score or allow a team mate to do so. In Barca, the quality he adds is obvious; he can be a second Lionel Messi. Agreed, he won't be as good, but can be the second distraction for defenders like Marcelo and Pepe. They can man-mark the pair but even Madrid's leg-breaking backline won't be able to keep track of Sanchez and Messi, at the same time. Add a finisher like David Villa or Pedro Rodrigues and I would say we have a pretty good squad this year wouldn't you?

Both Arsenal and Udinese will see a significant drop in quality with the departures of Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez respectively. However, although I do understand why Udinese decided to cash in on Sanchez, while trying to maintain their level without a replacement (which they have done to some extent if the match against Arsenal were to be taken as a benchmark) of similar quality. In the end, I think we will see that losing Cesc will hit Arsenal far worse than the loss of Sanchez will affect Udinese. I simply will never understand why Wenger isn't reinvesting the funds available to him. "We still have 8 days before the transfer window closes" is not a good excuse. By now, all the top players have been signed already. I am secretly hoping that Udinese beat Arsenal and advance to the group stages. That could be the kick in the proverbial back-side that the Gunners need to fire Wenger and start afresh during the winter transfer window.

In conclusion, Barca have acquired two players who would command undisputed starting positions in any squad, at prices that I think are way below their respective market values. If you take the inflated market into your calculations, I think you will have to agree and if you're not convinced yet? Well, let's wait for the (business) end of the season, I'm confident I'll be proven right. Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas are worth their weight in gold and the Blaugrana got them for- what will be seen in hindsight- peanuts. What do you guys think?

Inder Methil

 

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