Cesc Fabregas has finally made up his mind to quit Arsenal this summer and join his boyhood club Barcelona in a £30 million move that could have huge implications for the future of the Gunners manager Arsène Wenger.
The proposed deal is so significant that the Arsenal hierarchy are concerned that the transfer could even affect Wenger's future at the club. Fabregas' likely departure could make it difficult to persuade Wenger to sign another contract – his current deal runs out in July next year.
After a pursuit of Fabregas by Barcelona that has lasted three years in earnest and has built in pitch this summer, The Independent understands that the 23-year-old has finally informed his advisors that he wants to leave Arsenal. He will tell Wenger personally before he departs with the Spain squad for the World Cup finals.
The midfielder would like to leave with the blessing of the club but is sufficiently determined to go that he will put in a transfer request to get his way if he needs to do so.
Fabregas has four years left on his contract and Arsenal will demand a record transfer fee for the player but Barcelona have budgeted for £30m and think that sum is fair for a player Wenger snatched from them as a teenager. Fabregas joined Arsenal in 2003 for what was a nominal compensation fee having spent six years at Barça's La Masia academy and has blossomed into one of the best midfielders in the world.
Barcelona feel that morally Arsenal are obliged not to ramp up the price for a player who they took for virtually nothing. The speed of the deal will hinge on whether Wenger acquiesces to his captain's wishes to leave. It will be the second time in the space of three years that Wenger has bid farewell to his captain and star player – Thierry Henry left for Barcelona in 2007.
Sources close to Fabregas have indicated that the player has much the same concerns about Arsenal's future as the supporters. Having finished 11 points behind the champions Chelsea this season and with all the clubs around Arsenal in the Premier League table likely to strengthen for 2010-11, Fabregas does not feel that they have the capacity to compete for major trophies.
The deal could involve the Barcelona midfielder Yaya Touré moving to Arsenal but no detailed discussions have yet taken place. Crucial to the north London club will be how Wenger regards the sale of his most successful player and how that affects his attitude towards signing a new contract. He had a moment of indecision this time last year when Real Madrid showed a keen interest in him.
Fabregas is also adamant that the move is not about money because he could earn significantly more if he was to pursue approaches from Real or Manchester City. He feels that he has given Wenger's project to build a young team enough time and after rejecting Barcelona's offers for the last three years wants to return there.
The deal is being overseen by the outgoing Barcelona president Joan Laporta who will step down after serving the maximum three terms in office and overseeing two Champions League successes in his seven years. He wants to deliver Fabregas and Valencia striker David Villa before the next election on 14 June when Sandro Rosell is expected to win the vote.
Rosell was the Barcelona executive who pursued Arsenal for compensation for Fabregas when they signed him in 2003, the same year that Laporta took over at the club. The player is currently recovering from a broken leg that he sustained against Barcelona in the Champions League home tie on 31 March. He has been named in the provisional Spain squad for the World Cup despite not yet being match fit.
Having spent years plotting Fabregas's return to the Nou Camp, the Barça hierarchy was yesterday talking in much more confident terms. Rafael Yuste, a vice president at the club, said that signing Fabregas was "more complicated because lengthy negotiations with his club lie ahead." He added that "both players [Villa and Fabregas] want to come and that makes everything easier."
Laporta was taken aback by Fabregas' comments last week that he would like to return to the club, where he played alongside Lionel Messi in their youth sides. "It is remarkable that the player has said that," said Laporta yesterday. "If the club technical staff believe we need to make the extra effort and sign him, we'll speak to Arsenal."
Fabregas said at a promotional event in Barcelona last week: "You see your [Spanish] team-mates succeeding here [in Barcelona] and it is exciting because you have worked alongside them for so long. I think I would like to go to Barcelona, whether or not they want me is another thing."
However, he also stressed: "I don't know when it will happen. I am happy at Arsenal and I am not in a rush to leave." His stance has now changed dramatically.
Regarding Villa, Laporta added: "We've started talks with Valencia. Things are going well and we hope to reach an agreement as soon as possible. There's no date been fixed yet, but we'll sign him when it's best for our club."
Signed from Barcelona in September 2003, aged 16.
267 appearances for Gunners, scoring 48 goals.
15 goals in the league this season. He also contributed 13 assists.
Players who've left since 2005:
Player/Club sold to/Fee
P Vieira Juventus/£13.7m
R Pires Villarreal/Free
J Reyes Real Madrid/loan
D Bergkamp retired
S Campbell Portsmouth/Free
A Cole Chelsea/exchange
T Henry Barcelona/£16m
M Flamini Milan/Free
J Reyes A Madrid/£10.8m
J Lehmann Stuttgart/Free
A Hleb Barcelona/£11.8m
G Silva Panathinaikos/£1m
E Adebayor Man City/£25m
K Touré Man City/£14mReuse content