Fabregas prepared to play second fiddle to Barça's maestros

Former Arsenal captain handed coveted No 4 shirt but will struggle to oust one of feted midfield trio

From captain to squad man, Cesc Fabregas was yesterday getting used to the idea of no longer being an automatic selection for his club side. "I'm now ready for a more secondary role," he said. "Maybe two years ago I wasn't but now I am.

"This is the biggest challenge for me to get into this team. I know it is a big challenge but that forms part of the attraction. I am prepared for anything, to have a secondary role or to have a major role."

Fitness will largely dictate which of those two fates await him this season, both his own and that of his team-mates. If the midfield trio that outplayed Manchester United in the Champions League final stay strong and his own hamstring problems persist then he could struggle to oust Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez.

But if Pep Guardiola's slimline squad starts to crack and he thrives physically away from the draining demands of the Premier League then he will occupy any one of the three midfield berths: Xavi rested, Iniesta moved into the front three or Busquets moved into the centre of defence are three possible permutations.

The fact he has been given the emblematic No 4 shirt ahead of youngster Thiago Alcantara, who wore it in pre-season, suggests for all the hype surrounding the 20-year-old, Fabregas is already way ahead in his new boss's thinking. The No 4 is generally worn by the lynchpin of team Barça, the holding midfielder who can drop back between the two central defenders, or orchestrate attacks. Guardiola wore the shirt and Fabregas fulfilled the role when he was a 13-year-old in the same youth team as Leo Messi and Gerard Pique.

Footage of him as a teenager at La Masia was shown before his first press conference yesterday. "Seeing the images again it feels like I have never been away," he said. The club's president, Sandro Rosell, knows he has been away. He was on the board when they allowed him to leave for £500,000 and he will be signing the checks over the coming months.

The image of Rosell grinning in the official photograph will grate with Arsenal fans who believe Barcelona have behaved poorly throughout the saga. The nature of the player's presentation to 25,000 supporters inside the stadium was more palatable. "Kiss the badge" sang the fans, and the player who had taken a pay-cut to come home, obliged.

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