James Lawton: Fabregas's fealty is a cause for celebration
Players talking of fresh horizons are really saying 'Show us a lot more money'
Tuesday 29 July 2008
It's not for anyone to tell Arsène Wenger how to go about his business, but you just have to wonder whether he considered welcoming Cesc Fabregas back to training today with a band of at least 76 trombones. It might be deemed an extravagant gesture – only by anyone not quite sickened these last few weeks by one example after another of ingrate football stars sneering at the point of contracts and the loyalty that until now they have always implied.
The cause of celebration, a few hours after Fabregas had been reported to be flirting with Real Madrid and their piratical president Ramon Calderon, was Fabregas's astonishing statement of fealty to the club which has nurtured him so brilliantly. Yes, astonishing, in the perspective it may just have brought to the manoeuvrings of such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Dimitar Berbatov, Didier Drogba and Fabregas's club-mate Emmanuel Adebayor.
Perhaps rarely since a Chicago street urchin was alleged to have shouted, "Say it ain't so, Joe" when the legendary baseball star "Shoeless" Joe Jackson was charged with throwing a World Series had a leading professional sportsman been so urgently required to explain himself.
Fabregas, 21, could hardly have been more emphatic that he intended to stay at Arsenal.
He declared: "I have not spoken to anyone in the media, so it is frustrating to read quotes that I have supposedly said. I have spent the summer relaxing with my family, friends and girlfriend, and I return to training tomorrow. I think some people are trying to make mischief, but my intentions are very clear. I am happy here at Arsenal, my future is with Arsenal and the priority is to achieve success and win trophies at Arsenal."
If there had been a north London equivalent of the kid in Chicago around at the time, surely he would have implored, "Say it again, Cesc, say it's really true."
Say it again that the story in the Madrid football newspaper Marca was a ragbag of clichés preferred by players who talk of fresh challenges and horizons when really they are saying nothing more profound than, "Show us a lot more money".
Marca quoted Fabregas as saying: "I didn't tell Ramon Calderon no. I told him it wasn't the time to go to Madrid. That you are wanted by one of the biggest teams in history is important. To be four seasons without winning any titles would be too much for me."
Translation: "Senor Calderon, por favor, kindly hang on a year." How many times have we heard versions of that alleged yearning for success? Most notoriously, Sol Campbell spouted it when he told the Tottenham faithful that, despite his love of the club, he just had to go down the road to Arsenal to fulfil his ambitions.
Campbell's claim of professional desire rather than an urge, far from mysterious, to improve his income sharply, was met with the kind of derision which would also have greeted Fabregas if he had not so strongly disassociated himself from the Madrid story.
As it is, doubts will almost certainly continue to linger. With the Arsenal board stretched to give Wenger any kind of proper fighting budget to resist the power of Manchester United and the restated ambitions of Chelsea, it is reasonable to wonder how long Fabregas, arguably world football's most creative playmaker, will continue to display values that many in the game believe have never been more firmly rooted in the past.
The encouragement is that Fabregas has been consistently dismissive of suggestions that his ears have been tuned to the first significant overtures from a Spanish football scene made vibrant again by the recent triumph in the European Championship.
A few months ago a BBC interviewer asked him if he was tiring of London, maybe because it wasn't so near to the sea. At first nonplussed by the banality of the question, he warmed to its eloquent dismissal. He said that, curiously enough, he didn't miss the sea in autumn, winter and spring. He tended to go to the sea in the summer, when he larked about with his girlfriend and other mates and ate ice cream and had the occasional swim.
You could, however, sympathise with the BBC man to a certain degree. It was at least a new twist to the eternal question about when a player like Fabregas's lust for success, and bigger rewards, would carry him away from the club that had invested so much hope in his future.
For nine months now the question can be put away. It is one glint of light in English football's summer of discontent. Not only Arsenal fans must hope that Cesc Fabregas is as good as is word – and the band plays on.
Clean-winning Sastre admits that Tour is far from being a drug-free affair
We have been told to put away the cynicism and salute the latest winner of the Tour de France, the 33-year-old Spaniard Carlos Sastre, and wouldn't it be wonderful if we could indeed snap to attention and agree that the nightmare is over?
But of course it can never be so because cheating in sport has become as insidious as dry rot. All we can hope is that Sastre indeed occupies the right side of the line he so carefully defined in his moment of victory.
He said: "There are some people in cycling who want to win and are willing to cheat. There are also people who believe in the work they do. It will always be so."
If any confirmation were needed, Dimitry Fofonov was being announced as the fourth rider of the Tour to fail a drug test.
We are also told the drug runners and the specialists in scientifically applied dope are on the run. But of course they will regroup, they always do. Sastre knows that his sport will never outride such doubts, but at least he did not insult the intelligence of the public. He said that he knew the score – and it was one that, barring a new world, would never change.
Barton's latest last chance sends all the wrong signals
No one wants to see compassion, or the offer of redemption, extinguished in any walk of life, and especially in one of the games we play.
Still, the Newcastle United manager Kevin Keegan's decision to try once more with Joey Barton surely provokes another question.
When do rescue attempts on behalf of one repeat offender spill over the line that separates a generosity of spirit from a disregard for the needs of discipline and a sense that the interests of others who have met much higher standards of behaviour are being damaged?
A football team with a common set of values is halfway to success. When Barton came out of prison yesterday Keegan, an essentially warm man, was ready with the offer of still another last chance. This was good for Barton who, it would at least be pretty to think, was suitably grateful. But what did it say to the rest of the dressing room? Not much, you have to believe, about any need for a balance between crime and punishment – and still less for any oppressive demand to behave like mature professionals.
Margarito offers glimpse of boxing's enduring appeal
As Joe Calzaghe frets over his share from his prospective fight with veteran Roy Jones Jnr, which should have happened at least 10 years ago, we have been reminded of what happens when fine fighters operating at their prime get into the same ring at the same time and deliver all that they have.
What happens is that we get a real fight and sometimes a great one. This undoubtedly was the case in Las Vegas at the weekend when a quintessential Mexican fighter, Antonio Margarito, wore down and beat the superb craftsman Miguel Cotto, of Puerto Rico.
For several years Cotto has been the understated wonder of the ring, all but flawless technically and capable of the most beautiful rhythm. But Margarito was simply indomitable. He fought with a pure-hearted intensity rarely seen since the days of his fellow Latin American, Roberto Duran. Every time he battered his way past the defence of Cotto, every time he absorbed a perfectly thrown combination, and pressed home his challenge, he drew the line between the kind of fight he was engaged in and the charade we can expect when Calzaghe finally gets in the ring with his superannuated opponent.
Professional fighting will not die as long as men like Margarito and Cotto show us what it might still be if its promoters and television paymasters gave a little respect to that section of the fight public who know what they are seeing.
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