Amid the circus of the all-consuming Wayne Rooney question, Manchester United’s £26m bid for Barcelona’s Cesc Fabregas remains an issue yet be resolved.
There is still no suggestion that United’s confirmed offer has been rejected, despite numerous inquiries made on the issue in the past 48 hours. The Barça coach, Tito Vilanova, has said only that the player does not want to leave – which answers an altogether different question. United’s chief executive, Ed Woodward, brought forward his departure date from the club’s pre-season tour yesterday, to fly out of Sydney for an unspecified location in Europe. It would not be fanciful to suggest that location might be Barcelona.
There are grounds to believe that the former United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who watched Fabregas as a Barcelona youth-team player but found the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, quicker off the draw when it came to buying him, will approve of the bid. But the challenge for United’s new manager, David Moyes, is making the appeal of Old Trafford irresistible to the Spaniard – like it was for Robin van Persie, who heard the little boy inside him “screaming for Man United”, as he so memorably put it last summer. Moyes and Woodward have their work cut out.
United believe that Barcelona’s signing of Neymar could be decisive in Moyes realising his hopes of securing the 26-year-old. There is a sense at the top of the club that Fabregas fears the Brazilian will displace him next season and that, added to the departure of Pep Guardiola, who made it his mission across the course of two summers to bring Fabregas back to Catalonia, will make the idea of starting again an attraction.
That new beginning could be at Old Trafford, even though an inaugural interview would inevitably centre on whether it was Fabregas who left Ferguson with pepperoni pizza stains on his suit nine years ago. (The precise role of Fabregas, a 17-year-old substitute on the October afternoon of “pizzagate”, has remained shrouded in some mystery.)
The encouragement that United appear to have been offered by Fabregas’s representatives suggests that he is not entirely settled, though the idea of Neymar’s arrival does not mean he will definitely be ousted from the field of play, with an abundance of positional options for Fabregas at Barcelona – behind Lionel Messi and Neymar, or else in the midfield three when Xavi is being rested. Neymar is actually the replacement for David Villa, who arrived at Atletico Madrid yesterday. And as for Guardiola’s departure for Bayern Munich? Well, the relationship between Fabregas and the club is not actually undermined by that. Guardiola’s successor, Vilanova, blooded Fabregas in his youth teams at Barcelona and is a Cesc enthusiast. The bond has not exactly been broken.
Fabregas’s close friendship with Messi is another factor which draws him to Barcelona and will make United’s attempts to extract him more difficult. The two players’ partners – Messi’s wife Antonella Roccuzzo and Fabregas’s girlfriend Daniella Semaan – are close and there was nothing choreographed about Fabregas strolling on an Ibiza beach with Ms Roccuzzo, as they cradled their children this week.
Where United may have appeal for Fabregas is the fact that he would be one of their marquee players. He is certainly not talismanic at Barcelona in the way he was at Arsenal, Neymar’s arrival means Fabregas being replaced as the second “face of Barça”, after Messi.
There is a commercial as well as footballing dimension to this. Moyes, for whom Fabregas is one of three main targets (Thiago Alcantara, who eventually chose Bayern Munich over United, was a lower priority), received the first public indication from Spain on Monday night that Fabregas did not want the move. But Vilanova’s comments that evening did not feel like the kind of “hands off” warning which Everton were dishing out within minutes of United circling Leighton Baines. Only if United go back in with a higher offer will Fabregas learn a little more about the coach’s feelings for him.
In an interview recorded on Monday night, before United’s bid for Fabregas was submitted, the Barcelona president, Sandro Rosell, said: “We are a buying club, not a selling club.” Fabregas is about to learn if Rosell really means that.
United have some serious hurdles to overcome if they are to bring Fabregas to Old Trafford and the odds are set against it. But there have been more insurmountable challenges .