With questions of loyalty still clinging to Arsenal - and with a foot injury to Thierry Henry ruling him out of tonight's Champions' League tie against Hamburg - it was a relief for their manager, Arsène Wenger, to confirm yesterday that Cesc Fabregas is to sign a new contract.
And not just any new contract. The 19-year-old Spaniard will this week commit his future to Arsenal, and to English football, for the next eight years. "He will sign a new contract, yes," Wenger said. "He's 19. Nineteen plus eight takes him to 27."
It is an extraordinarily long deal for any player to sign - or agree - with Wenger adding: "But when you are 19, when you are already a regular player in the first team I don't have a problem." Indeed. Fabregas, lest it should be forgotten, has already achieved 100 first-team appearances and this season took over the number four shirt vacated two summers ago by Patrick Vieira. His centrality to his club's future has been further cemented.
"I'm delighted because it was announced in Real Madrid that he was going there," Wenger said with reference to the pre-season speculation that Fabregas would be returning to Spain after the World Cup. "It's a commitment and a reward for what we did for him at 16 years of age when we brought him over and we chose to give him the culture of the club," Wenger added. "And there's no book involved."
That was in reference, of course, to Ashley Cole, another young player Wenger carefully nurtured - although one who clearly feels, from the invective in his autobiography, that he was not rewarded in the same way, precipitating his bitter departure to Chelsea.
Again Wenger insisted that Cole's outbursts, being serialised this week, were "no distraction". He said he had not read a word while supporters will have to wait some time to hear Wenger's own inner thoughts as he insisted that he would only pen a book of his own once retired.
"In England players go to the World Cup and before they go they sign deals to write books," Wenger said. "I feel that, as long as I work, I will never write a book because I think you have not to say things to disturb people and not to lie."
Wenger bridled a little at Cole's questioning of the team spirit within the club he has left. "If we have a lack of spirit then going into the Champions' League Final without conceding a goal or losing a game then we must be very strong," he said.
That strength will be tested against Hamburg - especially in the absence of Henry who damaged his foot in last week's European Championships qualifier for France against Italy. The striker and captain had an injection before Saturday's Premiership match against Middlesbrough but suffered "a reaction".
Wenger added: "It will be short term. Two or three days and he will be OK for Man Utd [on Sunday]. We've already played without him away from home in the Champions' League this season so we can deal with it." Unlikely to start is Julio Baptista with Wenger saying he will make a late decision on whether to include Theo Walcott although that appears unlikely despite his concerns over Arsenal's lack of width.
Hamburg, whom Wenger believes are the most naturally attacking German club side, have problems of their own. They came through a tricky qualifier against the Spanish side Osasuna to reach Group G, only the second time they have reached the group stages, but have made a faltering start to the season and were knocked out of the German Cup at the weekend by lowly Stuttgarter Kickers.
There are also injury concerns. Rafael van der Vaart and Juan Pablo Sorin are both out while Khalid Boulahrouz - to Chelsea - and Daniel van Buyten have moved on. Responsibility now falls on Nigel de Jong in midfield, a player Wenger was once interested in, and Joris Mathijsen and Vincent Kompany in defence.
Hamburg (probable, 4-1-2-1-2): Kirschstein; Demel, Reinhardt, Kompany, Mathijsen; De Jong; Jarolim, Wicky; Trochowski; Ljuboja, Sanogo.
Arsenal (probable, 4-4-1-1): Lehmann; Eboué, Touré, Djourou, Gallas; Hleb, Gilberto, Fabregas, Rosicky; Ljungberg; Adebayor.
Referee: P Frojdfeldt (Sweden).Reuse content