COMMENT: The whistle blew on the Arsenal career of Cesc Fabregas some time ago.
After seeing Barcelona's £35 million bid for him last summer rejected, Cesc has appeared to be marking time at Arsenal. Injuries played their part in a disappointing campaign for the Spain midfielder, but the meltdown at Newcastle United, the decision to skip supporting his teammates to attend the Spanish F1 Grand Prix and the constant public pining for Barca does suggest Cesc isn't 'all in' at Arsenal.
The positive impact of Cesc as captain at Arsenal has been overstated by his supporters.
It not only reflected poorly on Cesc, but also manager Arsene Wenger, who granted him permission to go. Is it any wonder Arsenal suffered their Carling Cup final humiliation, when their leader is showing such questionable commitment? The story goes, while Birmingham City's players turned up with their game face on and in club suits, Arsenal's players rolled up in their civvies focused more on their ipods than what they were about face. Given Cesc's behaviour, is it really any surprise they suffered their Wembley shocker?
Now the question is how much Arsenal can extract from Barca for their captain.
For all the demands coming from Spain about doing right by their skipper and helping him get his move to Barca, Arsenal should be pushing for absolute top price for Cesc.
While he still has four years left on his current contract, there's talk within Arsenal that this summer represents the best time to get top price for the midfielder. Arsenal's medical staff have concerns over Cesc's long-term fitness and the club's current valuation will have to be downgraded if they keep hold of him for another 12 months.
But this isn't taking into account the chasm between the physical demands of the Premier League compared to the Spanish Liga - particularly for a Barca player. Pep Guardiola was able to win the Double last season with virtually an unchanged first-choice XI. Even with major injury clouds hanging over Xavi for much of the campaign, he was still an almost ever-present - something he'd have had no chance of achieving at an English Champions League club.
The lack of intensity in Spanish football and the two-team championship means Cesc will be allowed to fully recover from any nagging injury complaints he carries over from his Arsenal days and enter his peak years running at top fitness. Thirty-odd million quid for him at 24? You can imagine Cesc in three years' time, leading not only Barca, but also Spain in the 2014 World Cup. Fully fit, his trophy cabinet already needing renovation - what price him then?
Sell him to a City or Chelsea, then, yes, you can understand a valuation of £35-40 million. The injury problems would be taken into account and the competitiveness of the Premier League top four - never mind the title race - would mean any buyer would be expecting him on the pitch as much as possible - no matter the knocks he's carrying.
But if it is to be Barca, Arsenal need to insist on more than the £32 million plus bonuses the Spanish champs are offering.
In two years' time, in the comfortable surroundings of the Spanish Liga, Cesc's price will have more than doubled - and he'd still be only 26. No matter how much Sandro Rosell moans and complains, he and his football staff know they'll be getting a bargain if Arsenal cave into their offer this summer.