According to the London Evening Standard, Manchester United have made contact with FC Barcelona over versatile midfielder (and sometimes a not so convincing 'false 9') Cesc Fabregas. The upcoming summer transfer window will obviously spawn all sorts of speculation and it may be more rampant than usual with a new manager -- David Moyes -- soon arriving than it would have been with Sir Alex Ferguson still in charge. A plethora of players will be linked with a move to Old Trafford and some of them will seem feasible (e.g. Marouane Fellaini, Leighton Baines, and James Rodriguez to just name a few) while some others will be surprising links -- Fabregas falls into the surprise category. Nevertheless, here are some thoughts on the possibility.
Kevin McCauley, in a piece for SB Nation, does well to briefly chronicle the former Arsenal captain's time in the Premier League, and also his past two years at Barcelona. Cesc's versatility has been an asset for the newly-crowned Spanish champions -- but at the same time, perhaps because of his ability to play in a number of roles (and willingness to do so for the club that raised him as a child), he has not found a proper fit at Barcelona. As Kevin explains, the Spaniard has played the incisive role in a midfield trio (the result being that the brilliant Andres Iniesta is pushed out wide in attack), up front as the falsest No.9 ever, and in the tempo-setting Xavi role when the legendary midfielder was in need of rest or injured. However, he hasn't convinced in any of these roles.
If there's any truth these 'Cesc to United' rumors, I wonder where the talented 26-year-old would fit in at the club. Although there's a new manager arriving, his preferred 4-4-1-1 shape -- at least from the evidence of his 11+ year reign at Everton -- is not drastically different to Ferguson's. Where in that shape does Cesc fit?
At Arsenal, Cesc arguably developed into a world-class player for a time-being in the No.10 role in a 4-2-3-1 and as the most advanced midfielder in a 4-3-3. United currently have a talented 24-year-old playmaker in Shinji Kagawa while former talisman Wayne Rooney is an option as a No.10 (for now) as well. The former impressed at times this season but he never fully settled and established himself as an integral member of the squad. The thought (and hope) is that he might do so next season, especially if Rooney departs. United, in the past two or three seasons, have rarely been deployed in a 4-3-3 shape -- nor is this a shape that Moyes used much at Everton. Like Ferguson, the incoming manager seemingly prefers to have two relatively deep-lying central-midielders and an advanced-midfielder/secondary-striker type in behind a lead striker. It's difficult to see where Cesc would fit into all of this. Even if Rooney departs, how prudent would it be to bring in a similarly-aged threat to Kagawa? And would this be an efficient use of resources when there is other clear needs?
Perhaps Cesc could drop into a deeper role in midfield alongside Michael Carrick, the current stalwart of the United engine room. However, this combination would be prone to being run over. Even if the combative Phil Jones were to partner Cesc in a two-man midfield, neither has the positonal awareness to stay deep enough and compact with the back four. Jones' destructiveness is effective in midfield if he's given a specific man-marking sort of job or if he's free to fly around and throw himself into challenges. But he's probably not (yet?) the disciplined player that could protect Cesc in a two-man midfield.
The Spaniard is undoubtedly a very good player, despite his inconsistencies in recent seasons. However, he just doesn't logically appear to be a good fit at United. Purchasing a certain big-haired Belgian -- one that Moyes is very familiar with -- seems more prudent. Perhaps, though, Moyes might look at Cesc as a cornerstone piece for the future and rather than making the Spaniard fit to the squad, he'd rather have the rest of the squad fit around the talented midfielder. These are the sort of uncertainties when a new boss arrives. It will likely further complicate the upcoming silly season.