Arsenal Analysis: Why It Is Ivan Gazidis' Duty To Ensure Barcelona Pay £50m For Cesc Fabregas

Chief executive faces biggest test yet - playing hardball with Barca
When Ivan Gazidis put in a polished and convincing performance at an end-of-season Q&A with the Arsenal Supporters Trust nine days ago, the feeling among shareholders at the packed media centre at Emirates Stadium was that the club were in safe hands.

The Oxbridge-educated South African politely addressed questions about the club’s ownership, corporate governance, financial management and football performance in some detail.

He even threw in a couple of newsworthy nuggets for good measure, such as the board being confident Arsene Wenger will sign a new contract and that the club have begun using a GPS tracking system to monitor the fitness of the players in training.

In a display of near faultless corporate PR, the Arsenal chief executive gently poured cold water on the rising flames generated by the team’s end-of-season meltdown. It is not for nothing that he has acquired the nickname Sade – as in ‘smooth operator’ – among shareholders.

Yet, over the coming weeks, the former deputy commissioner for Major League Soccer faces an altogether different test of the business skills acquired during 14 years working for US football’s domestic League.

As Arsenal’s supporters gradually become accustomed to the unwelcome knowledge that Cesc Fabregas has played his last game for the club, the negotiations begin on the fee for a player who cost the Londoners nothing when he made the brave move to leave Barcelona in 2003.

Immensely popular

There is little evidence of anger or surprise on the messageboards or phone-ins. Fabregas is an immensely popular and committed player whose brilliance and growing influence on the team during the last seven years is unarguable.

Yet fans are united on one issue: Arsenal must get maximum value for the Spaniard and then, rather than leave it sitting in a bank somewhere, re-invest it in the team.

Given the fees that were paid last summer – at the height of a global recession, it should be noted – for global icons, it is not unreasonable for Arsenal to extract £50 million from Barcelona’s bulging coffers.

Real Madrid paid £30m for Xabi Alonso, £58m for Kaka and a world record £80m for Cristiano Ronaldo.

But it is the fee that Barcelona paid for Zlatan Ibrahimovic last July that Gazidis and the Arsenal board should pay particular attention to. While the enigmatic Swede is widely regarded as over-rated on these shores, the European champions gave Inter Milan £39m as well as Samuel Eto’o in a deal worth an astonishing £56m.

Given that Ibrahimovic was 27 at the time of the transfer, it is not unreasonable for Arsenal fans to assume that Fabregas’ age, form, fitness and undeniable pedigree combine to make him an equally expensive commodity.

How much 2009's star signings cost & why

Age: 27
Salary: £140k
Contract: 2013
Status: Icon
Form: Hot
Price: £57m

Man Utd
Age: 24
Salary: £120k
Contract: 2012
Status: Icon
Form: Red hot
Price: £80m

Age: 27
Salary: £150k
Contract: 2013
Status: Icon
Form: Red hot
Price: £39m + Eto'o
Age: 27
Salary: £65k
Contract: 2012
Status: Key
Form: Hot
Price: £30m

Age: 23
Salary: £110k
Contract: 2014
Status: Icon
Form: Red hot
Price: ?

This is where former Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein would have been invaluable. An experienced transfer and contract negotiator, he was expert at driving a hard bargain and ensuring Arsenal’s bean-counters were always smiling.

Dein’s dealings with Spanish clubs were particularly astute. Nicolas Anelka, Marc Overmars and Emmanuel Petit all wanted to move but not before Arsenal made a handsome profit.

Whether Gazidis possesses the same transfer market savvy and cunning remains to be seen. During his 16 months at the Emirates Stadium, he has acquired a sound reputation for building up the club’s off-field infrastructure and has shown an appreciation of Arsenal's ethos, history and traditions.

In the MLS, Gazidis was responsible for negotiation of the transfer and employment contracts of all players in the League, managing stadium events, security issues and player, coaching and referee matters. Significantly, there is a salary cap in the MLS of £2m per squad. Bartering with Barcelona is an altogether different ball game.

Double swoop

In theory, Arsenal hold all the aces. Fabregas has just turned 23, has come off the back of his best-ever season and is tied to the club until 2014 on a £110,000-a-week deal. He missed the last five weeks of Arsenal’s campaign with a fractured leg but it is not believed to be a hindrance to his participation in the World Cup.

However, Barcelona are aware that the midfielder has already told Arsenal he wants to move to Catalonia and, short of handing in a transfer request, has his heart set on making the deal happen.

The Spanish giants have made it clear that they want to tie up a double swoop for Fabregas and David Villa from Valencia before the World Cup and, crucially, before rivals and even bigger spenders Real enter the summer transfer market.

The £34m acquisition of Villa was finalised today and now the Barca machine will go into overdrive to seal the Fabregas deal.

Club sources have told the Spanish media that they will begin negotiations with a £30m bid, which seems to underestimate Fabregas’ market value.

Real paid that figure for Xabi Alonso last summer, when the former Liverpool midfielder had only two years left on his contract, was four-and-a-half years older than Fabregas and did not have the same global reputation as his countryman.

Gazidis’ response to Barcelona’s presence at the negotiating table will be crucial. He needs to tell Barca not to return until they start talking telephone numbers, or upwards of £40m, but be shrewd enough to recognise that Arsenal do not want to price Fabregas out of the market and be left with an unhappy talisman in their ranks next season.

In short, Gazidis must be as polished, savvy and calm as he was when he addressed supporters last week.