If Cesc Fabregas leaves Arsenal this summer then you should put a tenner on Samir Nasri taking over as captain.
Let’s deal with the ‘if’ first.
There is no guarantee that Cesc will depart, but there are strong hints coming out of the club (and from people connected with the club) that this time he really is going.
Most recently Nigel Winterburn has added his voice to those saying they expect him to leave.
And he apparently bade his farewells to the staff and gave all his team mates a “little gift” as they went their separate ways last month (you know, a DVD of My Left Foot for Robin van Persie, a copy of Humility: The Finest Grace for Nik Bendtner, some Play-Doh for Emmanuel Eboue and a revolver with one bullet in the chamber for Manuel Almunia).
Last year Cesc asked for a move to Barcelona but was persuaded to stay by Arsene Wenger, whom he trusts and respects. I also believe that Cesc is not the type of man to unilaterally break a contract (“doing a Cashley” as it’s known in Brewers Dictionary of Phrase and Fable).
If (when) he moves on, it will only be to Barcelona. Manchester City and Chelsea can dream on and, although Inter may seem like an attractive move, it’s clear Cesc dreams of playing at the club he grew up supporting and where he started his career.
And so to Nasri.
The little Frenchman with the dribbly feet and feisty temperament has one year left on his contract and he’s not afraid to use it.
If he doesn’t re-sign then he knows we have to sell him this summer and, based on his form in the first half of last season, he would not be short of offers. (If potential buyers examine his form in the run-in they may think twice, but I don’t suppose they will).
He apparently gave some quotes after France’s recent international game which suggested he would be open to at least listening to approaches from Manchester United and Manchester City.
So, the first big question facing Arsene and Arsenal is: do we want to keep him?
With Cesc almost certainly going the answer has to be a resounding ‘yes’. Nasri’s form may have dipped in the second half of the campaign, but so did the form of the entire team with the exception of van Persie. Whatever the cause of the late-season malaise that afflicted Arsenal, Samir certainly picked up the virus but it does not mean he is not potentially world class.
Prior to the run-in he was in blistering form and was probably player of the season until Christmas (despite the media’s love-in with the monkey man from N17).
He is also arguably the player best suited to functioning as a direct replacement for Cesc in a 4-3-3 line-up and he has apparently made it known that that is the position in which he wants to play.
IF Cesc leaves then Nasri knows he has a fantastic bargaining position (a) to get a much better financial deal and (b) to insist that he be played in the “Cesc role”. It might well be that his drop-of-the-shoulder, show-a-bit-of-bosom comments to the French press about a potential move to Northern Chavland were a way of applying leverage in the deal negotiations.
Of course it’s also possible that he really does want to leave. Particularly if Cesc moves on, he may be thinking “I’m in a team that can’t seem to win anything; the team’s best player is leaving, which presumably will make it even harder to win things; perhaps I should leave too.”
Footballers have short careers and if they are a top talent like Nasri it’s unreasonable in the modern age to expect club loyalty from them if they think they can be more successful elsewhere.
Unlike we fans, the players still place a huge emphasis on the international game and Nasri might feel his place in the French team will be more certain if he’s playing in a side that’s winning trophies.
Which brings us to the captaincy issue.
What does Arsene Wenger usually do when he has a star player who wants to leave but whom he wants to stay?
That’s right, he improves their deal and offers to make them captain of the team. He did it with Henry and he did it with Fabregas.
In the current circumstances (and, again, IF Cesc goes) it seems almost certain to me that AW will offer the captaincy to Nasri to help persuade him to stay. I suspect he will also guarantee that he can start the season playing centrally in the “Cesc role.”
I would have very mixed feelings about this.
First, I want Nasri to stay so anything that persuades him to do so can’t be all bad. But, second, it would be a disaster to make him captain.
Arsenal of late has been a team crying out for leadership – vocal, old-school leadership of the type best personified by TA6 (with the kind of vocals that are occasionally backed up with a hefty size 12 up the jacksie).
It may be that Nasri has it in him to be that kind of leader and he has just been hiding his light under a bushel. But to me, at least, he isn’t old enough or experienced enough to carry the team forward in the deepest adversity.
Nevertheless, that may well be how we embark on next season’s tilt at four trophies.