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Gloves off as Barcelona open the bidding for Fabregas

The phony war is over, and the gloves are now well and truly off. Barcelona have made a formal offer for Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas, understood to be in the region of £29m. The London club have rejected the bid out of hand, but we can be assured that this was just the opening salvo in a test of brinkmanship, the only likely result being the completion of a transfer for the Spanish international before the transfer window closes at the end of August.

Cesc Fabregas (image courtesy of Ibero)

Barcelona director general Joan Oliver confirmed their bid:

“We had made [a number of] approaches to Arsenal but yesterday, 1 July, the date of the official opening of the transfer window, a formal, written, concrete offer was made, which was sent very late [last night]. We have opened a formal process of negotiation with them. You all know that the player has expressed his desire to play for Barça and the club want him to come but there is a third party, which is Arsenal. Any agreement depends on their will.

In response, Arsenal have released the following statement on their website:

Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas is under contract with the Club until the summer of 2015. He is a highly-valued member of the team and part of our future plans.

We have followed recent speculation linking Cesc with a move away from the Club but as there has never been any official approach for him, only two informal exchanges, in which we made it abundantly clear that we have no interest in transferring Cesc, we have refrained from publicly passing comment. However, yesterday evening we received an offer from Barcelona for Cesc and in response, we immediately and resolutely told them once again that we have no intention of selling our captain.

To be clear, we will not make any kind of counterproposal or enter into any discussion. Barcelona have publicly stated that they will respect our position and we expect that they will keep their word.

So, battle lines are drawn. Arsenal have slammed the door in Barcelona’s face, but the reality is that any offer matching or exceeding their valuation of a player who has expressed a clear desire to rejoin his boyhood team will surely prise it open again.

The nature of transfer dealings – indeed, any form of public negotiation – is that it’s not simply a case of two people agreeing a price and then shaking hands on the deal. Personal and club reputations are on the line, and all parties – whether it is Arsenal, Barcelona or Fabregas himself – are already frantically positioning themselves as the ‘good guys’ and will seek to claim they have got the better end of any deal that is finalised.

Who has the upper hand?

Yes, Barcelona’s offer is well below Fabregas’s true market value. We know that. And, believe me, they know it too – they’re not stupid, and they knew it would draw an instant dismissal from Arsenal. But the real point is they can now stake a claim to the moral high ground, spin out the line that they are making every genuine effort to sign the player, and blame Arsenal’s intransigence and/or greed for any delays in the deal-making process, driving a wedge between player and club.

It is very difficult to say who has the upper hand in negotiations. Arsenal neither need nor want to sell, but in the post-Bosman era the balance of power resides firmly with the players – it is very difficult to retain the services of a player who genuinely wants to go. And the longer the bargaining goes on, the more things shift in the Catalans’ favour.

Remember the Dimitar Berbatov saga? Tottenham held out until the very end of the 2008 summer window before finally selling the Bulgarian striker to Manchester United, squeezing every last pound out of the deal. But by stringing it out, they were left with a distracted and unhappy player, and once the deal had been done they had virtually no time to spend any of the cash. In addition, the off-field melodrama undoubtedly contributed to Spurs’ sluggish start to the season – two points from their first eight games – which cost manager Juande Ramos his job.

This is the trap which Arsenal need to avoid. Unless negotiations proceed miraculously quickly – and the nature of these things is such that they never go quickly (such as the eleventh hour rescue of Crystal Palace from liquidation yesterday) – there will be no deal concluded before the World Cup, at which point all bets are off until mid-July. So if Fabregas is to be sold, I would argue it is better to close a deal at the end of July, rather than hold out for an extra few million until late August, just before the window closes.

Having already spent €40m on Valencia‘s David Villa last month – and with total debts estimated at €489m – it is also likely Barcelona will offer one or more players as part of the deal to reduce their cash outlay. (Or, at the very least, attempt to negotiate instalments that minimise any up-front cash payment.) But Arsenal are unlikely to take kindly to accepting Barça’s over-valued cast-offs, making this another sticking point which slows down the deal.

The beginning of the end?

Don’t get me wrong. I desperately want Fabregas to stay. At the very least, I would love to get one final season out of him and see him leave in a timely, dignified fashion, rather than being bundled out of the back door. But now that Barcelona have started the formal process by submitting an offer, albeit a derisory one, I just can’t see it happening. I just hope that, if Cesc really is going, Arsenal get a fair price for him with enough time remaining in the transfer window for Arsene Wenger to spend it wisely.

Make no mistake: the likelihood is that, while their initial £29m offer is just the beginning, it very much signifies the beginning of the end of Cesc Fabregas’s seven-year career at Arsenal. Just don’t expect this story to conclude any time soon.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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