Cesc Fàbregas has regressed so drastically at Barcelona he might regret not forcing through a transfer to Manchester United last summer. Daniele de Rossi said "I would have committed suicide" had he joined David Moyes' brief reign at Old Trafford, yet however badly United would have failed with Fàbregas, he would not be in the surreal, unwanted position he currently finds himself in.
Fàbregas, a two-time European Championship and 2010 World Cup winner, is less coveted than James Milner these days. Arsenal, his spiritual home in England, do not want him, and neither do Manchester City nor Liverpool, the Premier League's table-toppers. Even United, nursing their worst midfield in 40 years, are not keen. Barça would accept £30 million for Fàbregas and United offered more than that last summer.
Chelsea, though, do want the 27-year-old, only they are managed by a coach he told to "shut up" earlier this year. José Mourinho is renowned for his mistrust of Spanish players at Real Madrid, and swiftly sold Juan Mata, Chelsea's player of the year the past two seasons. It is a bizarre scenario for Fàbregas.
Barcelona are content with making a loss on a player they bought for £35m three summers ago that ended a courtship of Shakespearean proportions. Fàbregas, however, has come to signal Barcelona's downfall.
When he signed, along with Alexis Sánchez in 2011, the expectation was Barça would not just become the first team to retain the European Cup in the Champions League era, but that they would win it again and again. They had just eviscerated an admittedly underwhelming United in that year's Wembley final, yet the chasm between the two teams since their 2009 showpiece in Rome had widened. Barça were not resting on their laurels.
The Clásico tension with Mourinho's Real Madrid and the unfortunate Champions League semi-final defeat to Chelsea meant the best Barcelona attained in Fábregas' first season was the Club World Cup and Copa del Rey. They regained the championship the following season, only that was overshadowed by a 7-0 aggregate walloping by Bayern Munich in the Champions League last four, and the most recent campaign was their worst in seven years.
New coach Luís Enrique is an admirer of Atlético Madrid midfielder Koke, a player Xavi billed as his heir. Xavi, whose contract expires in 2016, should remain at Camp Nou, hence why Barcelona are open to selling Fàbregas.
Fàbregas' goalscoring record has steadily dropped in Spain and although he struck 13 times last season he is still not considered a certain starter. Barcelona remain reliant on Xavi's waning powers, and Koke's rise at Atlético - which coincided with Fàbregas' return to Spain - has magnified Fàbregas' own struggles.
He has also suffered from change at managerial level. Fàbregas played under Arsène Wenger for seven years at Arsenal, whereas Enrique is the fourth coach to pass through Camp Nou's revolving doors since Fàbregas signed three years ago. At Arsenal, he was the captain and talisman, yet at Barcelona he is just another cog in a once well-oiled machine.
The Spaniard was prepared to leave the Blaugrana last year, however the arrival of new coach Tata Martino, who insisted Fàbregas would not be sold, and the club's complex politics, scuppered any chance of a move to United. Fàbregas was unwilling to hand in a transfer request, and United were left looking forlorn at the end of a long garden path.
Had Moyes survived his catastrophic campaign, Fàbregas might be listed as a United player in time for the World Cup's start date. Louis van Gaal, unsurprisingly, does not want the players Moyes wanted, and an accusation levelled, rather harshly, at Fàbregas is he is too slow.
Now Frank Lampard has confirmed he is leaving Chelsea, Fàbregas is a standout replacement. Back in his favoured league - and favoured position - he will be allowed to play the goalscoring midfield role he is denied at Barcelona.Suggest a correction