Arsenal will cope without Cesc Fabregas, says former manager

CESC Fabregas seven-year itch at Arsenal is almost certain to lead to his long-awaited return home. The Spaniard, who has been with the Gunners since 2003, is widely reported to have told Arsene Wenger on Monday that he wants to quit the club. He has sai

CESC Fabregas' seven-year itch at Arsenal is almost certain to lead to his long-awaited return home.

The Spaniard, who has been with the Gunners since 2003, is widely reported to have told Arsene Wenger on Monday that he wants to quit the club.

He has said he wants his future sorted before Spain's first World Cup game against Switzerland on June 16.

The saga smacks of the departure of another talismanic midfielder, Liam Brady, exactly 30 years ago. The Irishman also left for foreign riches seven years after making his Gunners bow as a teenage prodigy.

His manager back then, Terry Neill, believes Fabregas' departure "now looks inevitable". And he also sees huge similarities between the two.

"Having been through this experience myself when Liam left in 1980, I can tell you that Cesc, like Liam, has behaved impeccably," Neill tells Ham&High Sport.

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"This isn't about money, just like it wasn't with Liam. We tried our best to keep him - as we did with Frank Stapleton a year later - but we couldn't keep them.

"It was their right to go and they went. I know Cesc is under contract, but you should never keep a player who wants to move on. You won't get the best out of him, and that is not good for Arsenal or the player. He has family reasons, cultural reasons and footballing reasons for moving to Barcelona.

"It was heart-breaking for me when Liam, my best player, left for Juventus and it will be heart-breaking if Cesc does move on.

"But that is being purely selfish. Other great players have left in the past but Arsenal still goes on. It's a burden on Arsene's shoulders, but I guarantee that he and his chief scout Steve Rowley will already have other players in mind to bring in should Cesc depart."

Fabregas has remained a model of diplomacy over the past couple of years as his boyhood club continued to publicly court him.

But he has cast-iron ties with Barca, having attended his first game at the Nou Camp with his grandad three months before his first birthday.

Outgoing Barcelona president Joan Laporta reportedly met Fabregas in Morocco earlier this month, where the player was holidaying, before meeting up with Spain's World Cup squad.

The pressure was maintained when his friend Xavi repeated his claim that Fabregas has "Barca DNA", despite the player still having four years left on his �110,000-a-week contract in north London.

Barca now believe they will get their man, with the fee expected to be more than �30m - a remarkable profit for Arsenal, who effectively snatched the teenage Fabregas from the Catalans for little more than �500,000 seven years ago.

It was a situation that still draws comparison with the arrival and sale of Nicolas Anelka, who joined Arsenal for �500,000 as a 17-year-old before moving to Real Madrid in 1999.

Arsenal eventually made a thumping �22.5m profit on Anelka and can expect to make even more on Fabregas. But it's silverware, rather than gold coins, which appears to be the player's motivating factor.

Since Fabregas became Arsenal's youngest ever player, aged 16 years and 177 days in 2003, he has only won one trophy - an FA Cup back in 2005.

"Who could blame him [for going]?" said Ian Wright. "Fabregas loves Arsenal, but he's watching Barcelona with their great team, and the best player in the world, winning all these trophies. I couldn't blame him if he wanted some of that.

"The fact is that Arsenal have gone backwards, we're not attracting the top, top, top players and we need to. That's how it has been since David Dein left the club."

Spanish newspaper El Mundo Deportivo claims that Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who netted 21 times for Barca last season - including a brace in the 2-2 draw at Arsenal in March - will move to the Emirates as part of the deal.

Sport adds that Yaya Toure, a player Arsene Wenger admires despite not taking up an option to buy him in the past, could also play a role in a deal.

But the player's agent, Dimitri Seluk, told Ona FM radio station: "There is a thousand to one chance that Toure will be part of a transaction with Arsenal's Cesc."

Whatever the permutations, the clever money is on Fabregas having played his last game for the club - his last kick being a successful penalty against Barcelona.

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