The Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola raised the stakes yesterday in his pursuit of Cesc Fabregas by going public on the current negotiations with Arsenal over the midfielder's transfer and promising Barcelona will wait all summer if necessary to get their man.
The move by Guardiola follows The Independent's report yesterday that Barcelona are preparing their third bid this summer of £35m which they believe will be the basis for a resolution in the pursuit of Fabregas. While Guardiola has openly discussed his club's desire to sign Fabregas over the last two years he has never been quite so candid about signing the player as he was yesterday.
As far as Fabregas is concerned, all the indications from the player's camp are that Barcelona are knocking on an open door. The player reluctantly agreed to stay at Arsenal last summer but believes that he should be allowed to leave in this transfer window. The proviso from the club has been that he can do so as long as Barcelona meet their £40m valuation, although the Catalans believe they could conclude a deal for around £37m.
Guardiola said yesterday that Arsenal had "agreed to negotiate" over the player this summer. "We are working on it," he said. "Barcelona have made an offer, Arsenal another and we have time until 31 August and we'll try to reach an agreement.
"There is a sum of money in the strong box set aside for this signing but if it doesn't work out it will be kept in the box for something else. We will fight to the end to try to get Cesc because we believe he will improve the team and the squad." Given Arsène Wenger's intemperate reaction to Roberto Mancini's public declaration of Manchester City's interest in Samir Nasri, the move by Guardiola comes with some risk attached. Barcelona's debts of around £400m mean that they cannot move as decisively in the transfer market as the club would have liked this summer.
In that respect, Guardiola emphasised that the move for Fabregas had to be done in a manner that was sensitive to Arsenal. There is a question mark over whether his hamstring injury will preclude the player from travelling to the club's pre-season camp in Germany on Friday and certainly his presence on that trip would suggest that Arsenal have not responded to Barcelona's latest offer.
Having accepted Wenger's decision not to sell him last summer, it will be instructive to see how Fabregas responds to further delays by Arsenal in agreeing a deal with Barcelona this time around. Guardiola said yesterday that he had no intention of encouraging the player to rebel. "I think that Cesc has to do what Arsenal ask," he said. "For me, I wouldn't like one of my players to say, 'Now I'm not training because I want to go'."
The Barcelona sporting director, and former goalkeeper, Andoni Zubizarreta also said that his club did not wish to fall out with Arsenal. He said: "The position towards Arsenal is one of maximum respect because the club own the player. Also towards the player. From there, our position is to try and see eye-to-eye [on a deal], creating proposals that may be of interest, while always maintaining the maximum respect. We don't have a style of doing things by force."
Guardiola also admitted that Fabregas was not the club's priority this summer. Of a more pressing concern is the signing of the Udinese forward Alexis Sanchez for around £20m. With Bojan Krkic on the brink of a transfer to Roma for around £10m and Jeffren Suarez also likely to leave, the club are down to their starting forward three of Lionel Messi, David Villa and Pedro. "The priority is an attacker," Guardiola said.