It turns out Arsenal's trip to Barcelona this month was not fruitless after all. Arsène Wenger's team may have been dispatched from the Champions League after a 4-1 humbling at the feet of Lionel Messi but, in the boardroom, they appear to have won a victory.
Following the start of the traditional spring speculation season as to when Cesc Fabregas will return to Catalonia, given added impetus by Messi himself earlier this week, the Arsenal chairman Peter Hill-Wood has revealed Barcelona made a promise not to pursue their former youth-team player this summer. "There was a private conversation that took place in the boardroom and assurances have been made at the highest possible level," Hill-Wood told ESPN Soccernet. "Arsenal do not expect those to be broken."
This revelation was slightly weakened when Hill-Wood admitted he had not been present at the time, but had been told of the conversation later. Nor is Fabregas, currently on the sidelines with a broken leg sustained in the first leg of the Champions League tie, likely to be impressed when he hears Hill-Wood's subsequent comment that "if you want my opinion, I'm not sure he would even get in their team. Do they need him? I'm not sure that they do."
Given the presence of Xavi and Andres Iniesta, plus Messi's move into an advanced midfield role similar to that being occupied by Fabregas before his injury (albeit with a more attacking, wandering brief), that may be true. However, as Iniesta's run of injuries has underlined, football is a squad game and, as Messi indicated, Fabregas would enhance any squad.
However, the Arsenal manager Wenger noted, in a likely reference to Emmanuel Petit, Marc Overmars, Alex Hleb and Thierry Henry, all of whom have moved from the club to Barcelona under his watch and then struggled to get into the team: "Up till now, all of the players who have left have wanted to come back."
Hill-Wood said Arsenal had broached the subject in the Nou Camp because "we [had] got a bit upset because of all the media speculation. They told us they were not interested [this summer]. If they are interested at any time in the future they would come to us direct. However, I'm not sure they are going to do that because they told us they are pretty happy with what they have got. That suits us fine."
Wenger added that as Fabregas was on a long contract, until 2014, it was up to Arsenal if and when he left. Every club says that, but Arsenal are more prepared than most to enforce contracts. Not that he should need to: Fabregas has given every impression of intending to start next season with Arsenal, and why not? Aside from that defeat in the Nou Camp, when Arsenal were severely under-strength, the club are not so far behind the main players that a few serious summer signings might not see them bridge the gap.Reuse content