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Fabregas facing up to crucial decision

"United are wasting their time. It took a long time for Cesc to get his dream move back home and he won't give it up.

"This is home, it is where his family is, and he is playing with his closest friends. He has told us that he is happy."

That's what Gerard Pique told the Sun this week. And it makes perfect sense. You'll remember the annual tedious, drawn-out transfer sagas that finally ended on August 15, 2011. The controversy of the Barca shirt at Spain's World Cup celebrations… the will he, won't he? Of course he won't and how couldn't he?

Well, he did and if it was an unsettling year for Arsenal fans, just imagine what Cesc Fabregas was going through.

Now, having finally returned home to his family, Catalonia and Barca after leaving them all as a 16-year-old, would he really pack his bags again just two years on?

If El Mundo Deportivo is to be believed, the answer is yes. Because, despite what his pal Pique said, it hasn't been a particularly happy return home for Fabregas the footballer. Social life aside, the midfielder will be anxious to enjoy his football next season as, at 26, he is now 'middle aged' in footballing terms. He's already had 10 years at the top, and it's very unlikely he'll have 10 more.

With another Fabregas transfer saga rumbling on, El Mundo Deportivo claims that the former Arsenal player "has considered a move back to England". And with the prospect of a season on the Barca bench and United keen for him to fill Scholes' boots for double his current wages, why wouldn't he?

Because at the Camp Nou, Cesc has a problem - he won't get in the starting XI next season, not regularly anyway. And after his performances last term, the fans wouldn't be that bothered to see him go.

Thiago Alcantara left Barca because he didn't want to play second fiddle to Xavi and Iniesta in midfield, leaving the fiddle for Fabregas to pluck away on whilst he sat on the bench.

Neymar's arrival is doubly damaging for the former Arsenal midfielder: firstly it means Iniesta will drop from attack into midfield more regularly, alongside Xavi and Busquets, leaving Messi, Neymar and a winger (Pedro, Alexis, Tello or Cuenca) to lead the line. And secondly, when Messi is rested or unavailable, the Brazilian forward will be second in line for the 'false nine' role, where Fabregas was often employed under both Guardiola and Vilanova.

If he stays at Barcelona, the 26-year-old will probably be left to scrounge for playing time when others are injured or rested. And at 33, Xavi has got at least a season or two left in him, so Fabregas will have to be patient before he takes up that mantle.

After a great start on his return in 2011 - including four goals in his first four league games - the fans began to lose patience in their prodigal son last season and Cesc was often on the receiving end of frustrated tuts and whistles from the Camp Nou faithful.

But the stats, at first glance, are surprising. Last season, between filling in for Messi in attack and getting the nod in the middle, Fabregas played in 48 games in all competitions for Barca, including 30 league starts. And he scored 14 goals. Not bad for a disappointing year.

But when you look more closely, the cracks start to appear.

Tito Vilanova saw Fabregas not as his solutions man, but the one who made way when something more was needed. In the big games, or when Barca had their backs to the wall, Fabregas was often either dragged off on the hour mark - generally the time managers will make their first change when things aren't going to plan - or he was left on the bench. Maybe the cause or the effect of his plunge in confidence.

The midfielder played a total of just eight minutes over two legs in the Supercopa against Real Madrid at the start of the season: he made a brief appearance in the first leg and was an unused substitute at the Santiago Bernabeu.

On week two of La Liga, with Barca losing 1-0 away at Osasuna, Fabregas was replaced on 62 minutes before Messi's brace won the game.

The following week in a tight 1-0 win against Valencia, he was again brought off on the hour mark with Barca hanging on without him for all three points.

In El Clasico at the Camp Nou in early October, the midfielder was replaced after 61 minutes once more, with the game finishing 2-2.

Down to 10 men and leading 4-3 in a crazy game away at Depor two weeks later, Tito sacrificed Fabregas after an hour, bringing on Xavi to steady the ship for the final 30 minutes.

He played a total of just 20 minutes in two physical and tense Champions League games against Celtic. And in Barca's first league defeat of the season against Real Sociedad in January, Fabregas was replaced again on 58 minutes.

A pattern was emerging and it would continue in other crucial games, including defeats against Milan in the Champions League and Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey - at the Camp Nou. Both times Fabregas was the man Tito substituted with half an hour remaining, when the former Barca manager was desperate for something to change.

In the Champions League quarter-finals the Catalans were heading out after Javier Pastore's opener for PSG, before Pedro equalised in the 71st minute - 10 minutes after Fabregas had been hauled off.

When the going got tough, Cesc Fabregas's number was up. Literally.

He was an unused substitute in two massive Champions League clashes: the all-important second leg against Milan, when Barca turned the tie on its head hammering the Italians 4-0, and the humbling at the hands of Bayern Munich in the first semi-final.

There are exceptions. Fabregas played in some big games and scored a few important goals - a brace at Sevilla with Barca 2-0 behind and the opener at the Bernabéu in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final. Also, in a side with so much quality, playing so many fixtures, rotation is inevitable. But Fabregas is not the midfield general he was at Arsenal and could be at United.

Whereas he was replaced 11 times after an hour last term, Arsene Wenger substituted his captain just once before the 65 minute mark in his entire final season with the Gunners - excluding injuries - when Arsenal were leading Shakhtar Donetsk 3-0 in a Champions League group game and Fabregas had just netted a penalty. And it's inconceivable that Wenger would have left the Spaniard on the bench for a must-win game.

At Arsenal he was the solution when a change was needed, at Barca he's the change when a solution is needed. And next season, with the arrival of Neymar, Fabregas will play an even more insignificant role than he has already, which just isn't right for a player of his ability and skill.

If the decision to return to Barca in 2011 was made with his heart, maybe this time Fabregas needs to put his career first.

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