Cesc Fabregas said not lifting a trophy as Arsenal captain was the biggest regret of his career as he finally signed for Barcelona yesterday. He spoke of the routine disappointment at the Emirates that wore him down, but tipped Jack Wilshere as a future England captain and urged supporters not to lose faith in Arsène Wenger.
As he finally donned the Barcelona No 4 shirt in front of 25,000 supporters the two clubs were still contradicting each other over his final price. The Catalans claimed to be paying €14.5m (£12.8m) now and the same amount in October with the total finally rising to €40m. Arsenal have the same figures – but in sterling, representing a better deal for the Gunners than Barça would have their fans believe.
A 50 per cent sell-on has also been agreed although, with Barcelona slapping a €200m buyout clause on their new player and Fabregas having been angling for the move for three seasons, the chances of him going anywhere soon seem remote.
"I spent a third of my life at Arsenal – eight years," he said. "That makes this a very sad moment for me but life goes on. No player is bigger than the club. I am sorry I couldn't say anything for the last two and half months, Arsenal would not allow me to talk. I still have a great relationship with the fans and I am disappointed to have maybe lost the affection of some of them.
"I gave everything for them. It did not show in the trophy cabinet because I only won one FA Cup and that is the biggest regret I will have in my career: not being able to lift a trophy as Arsenal captain. But I am sure that they will be a strong team again. I will watch them every weekend and I will go to Arsenal whenever I can. What they have done for me is unbelievable."
Arsenal's future prospects now rest in the hands of Wenger and young midfielders Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsay. Fabregas praised all three, suggesting Wilshere could even replace him as Arsenal's youngest captain.
"There is not even a question over whether or not Arsenal's midfield is in good hands. Jack will be the England captain inside the next two or three years, you don't have to be a magician to work that one out. As for Aaron: his engine is unbelievable, his final ball will get better and he will be the next big star at Arsenal. They are winners and they will be amazing for the club."
Fabregas admitted that failing to win had played a part in his desire to leave. "It's not just that we did not win titles, it was the routine. You always went through the same thing with the same end result – the finals we messed up in and the semi-finals, too. Those defeats were always hard to take."
But there were no recriminations for Wenger, whom he called "the most important person I have met in the game. "Wenger is a second father for me," he added. "I will never have enough words to thank him for what he has done. There is a bad image of him here [in Spain] – but I know what he is like and I know I am here largely thanks to him. I spoke to him on Friday to say goodbye and got so emotional I could not even talk when I wanted to say how grateful I was for what he has done for me, so I had to send a message afterwards. If Arsenal want to keep being the club they should be then they have to be always under his control."
Ahead of tonight's first-leg Champions League qualifier against Udinese, Wenger yesterday said: "You can create an auction for Cesc between Real Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester City and you will certainly get more money but he just wanted to go to Barcelona.
"We sold Cesc for a reduced fee. If he was on the market to any club we would have got more money but we did want to get a decent fee. That's what I'm paid for. You cannot say because you want to get the deal done as quickly as possible: 'Just take him and give us what you want.' You fight for your rights.
"Cesc gave us eight years. It was a pleasure to work with him on a daily basis. It was a pleasure to watch him – every day – playing football. And I'm sure it was a pleasure for you as well to watch him to play. So that's part of life. Maybe he will come back one day to the club, you never know. I would prefer him in an Arsenal shirt. But that's part of life."
Fabregas added: "He [Wenger] did not want me to leave for €29m, €50m, even €80m but in the end I think my own will convinced him. I am grateful that he respected my wishes." And he admitted he now faces the challenge of breaking into a midfield that boasts three World and European Champions in Sergi Busquets, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez.
"This is a different challenge to the one that confronted me when I went to Arsenal. I played a Champions League final, I was captain at 21, at a World Cup at 18, everything happened very young. It has been a great experience for me but I know I have a lot to learn – and I know that I can learn it with [Pep Guardiola]."