CESC FABREGAS made one last visit to Arsenal’s London Colney training ground last night – to clear the personal belongings from his locker.
After three years of “will-he-won’t-he”, the 24-year-old will finally return to Barcelona, the club he left as a 16-year-old, just 24 hours before the big Premier League kick-off in England.
According to the Sun, Arsenal and Barcelona have agreed a £35.9m (R400m) fee – but Fabregas has cleared the way for his return to the Nou Camp by returning a £4.5million “loyalty bonus” due to him from the Gunners.
The low point in the long-running Fabregas transfer came last month when Estanislau Fors, the mayor of Cesc’s birthplace Arenys de Mar near Barcelona, said: "We all want Cesc to come home to Barcelona because at the moment he is living in a kidnapping. If Arsenal are truly English gentlemen they should start behaving as such. They need to stop clowning around."
They have. The final blow came when club captain Cesc refused to travel to Lisbon last Saturday, where Arsenal were beaten 2-1 by Benfica. Boss Arsene Wenger, under huge pressure after six years without a trophy, said: “Cesc is not injured. He’s training normally but hasn’t played since Bolton, which is two and a half months. The situation with Cesc? I don’t want to talk about it any more.”
Arsenal will earn a further £5m from the deal – dependent on his appearances and trophies for Barca and Spain. Fabregas played 212 games for Arsenal, scoring 35 goals, but failed to pick up a single winners’ medal.
Wenger is also resigned to losing French midfielder Samir Nasri, who could even make his debut for Manchester City in their Monday-night Premier League opener against Swansea.
Nasri, also 24, has only one year left on his contract and with City prepared to pay him £180,000-a-week, Arsenal have little choice but to accept a £25m transfer fee from the richest club in football. City, backed by Abu Dhabi billionaire Sheikh Mansour, have already grabbed Gael Clichy, Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure from north London’s reds.
Arsenal striker Marouane Chamakh was quoted yesterday saying: "I think both Cesc and Nasri will probably leave the club."
For Arsenal, who kick off their season against Newcastle on Sunday, the loss of Fabregas and Nasri will do little to encourage worried Gooners.
Though £12m Gervinho and youngster Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have both been signed in the summer, the anxiety over central defence remains unsolved. Efforts to sign experienced centre-backs along the lines of Chris Samba, Gary Cahill or Phil Jagielka have come to nothing. Instead, Birmingham’s Scott Dann, 24, is expected to arrive for £8m this week.
Carl Jenkinson, the full-back signed from Charlton for a paltry £1.5m, has distinguished himself with a bizarre pre-season own goal in Germany which you can see here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwjfZduiJ5Q.
Valencia’s Juan Mata and/or Shakhtar Donetsk's Brazilian star Jadson are also under scrutiny, but Arsenal fans – used to seeing their club miss out on the big names – aren’t holding their breath.
They will be more concerned at the failure to extend the contracts of established stars Robin van Persie, Alex Song and Theo Walcott. This time next year, all three will have just a year left on their contracts, leading to further transfer sagas.
The dead wood - Sebastien Squillaci, Nicklas Bendtner, Andrey Arshavin, Abou Diaby, Manuel Almunia and Denilson – remain unsold, though Denilson, after a diatribe against his own club, is now at Sao Paolo on loan.
The only other big transfer likely to happen as the Premier League kicks off involves the long-running switch of Croatian Luka Modric from Spurs to Chelsea – with Israel’s Yossi Benayoun now being offered to Harry Redknapp, who has seen his side's opener against Everton tomorrow postponed due to the riots in London. South Africa captain Steven Pienaar thus gets further recovery time after his hernia operation.
Manchester City’s unsettled Argentinian Carlos Tevez will go to Inter Milan on loan – but only if Cameroon’s Samuel Eto'o moves to big spending Russians FC Anzhi Makhachkala to become the best-paid player on the plant. Anzhi, based in the capital of the Republic of Dagestan, are offering him £300,000-per-week.
Premier League opening fixtures (SA kick-off times):
Blackburn v Wolverhampton, 4pm
Fulham v Aston Villa, 4pm
Liverpool v Sunderland, 4pm
QPR v Bolton, 4pm
Tottenham v Everton, 4pm
Wigan v Norwich, 4pm
Newcastle v Arsenal, 6.30pm
Stoke v Chelsea, 2.30pm
West Brom v Man Utd, 5pm
Manchester City v Swansea, 8.45pm
In the Championship, fresh from playing in South Africa’s 3-0 win over a below-strength Burkina Faso, Bongani Khumalo flies in to play for Reading at Sven Goran Eriksson’s Leicester on Saturday, with Kagisho Dikgacoi’s Crystal Palace at home to Burnley. Portsmouth, with wantaway Aaron Mokoena still on board, travel to promoted South Coast neighbours Brighton.