Barcelona continued their quest to alienate neutrals with their behaviour last night when Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique interrupted Spain’s World Cup celebrations to publicly force a Barcelona shirt over Cesc’s head. Ignoring the fact that this was a Spanish celebration, not a Catalan one, and that our captain would be suitably embarrassed in a moment he was supposed to be celebrating, the pair managed to drive another wedge between the two clubs with their antics.
When I saw it, I have to say I wasn’t surprised. The Barcelona contingent have acted with so little class recently that any stunt they pull washes over me to a certain extent. Their complete disregard for Arsenal is nothing new – they would have been in Cesc’s ear for a month anyway, so culminating that by putting the shirt over his head isn’t likely to change things.
In fact, the only thing that surprised me was that Pepe Reina got involved – I had previously considered him one of football’s good guys and above this sort of thing.
But despite their antagonistic behaviour, we should not take the bait. Barca’s continual tactic has been to break a relationship to drive the price down to a level they can afford, whether it is between the fans and the player, or the player and the club. They either want him to request a transfer, or us to force him out.
The latter should never happen – Cesc has continually respected Arsenal on and off the pitch. He isn’t hankering after a move a la Adebayor, or letting his effort levels slip. And ignore certain quarters of the press who claim he was happy to be wearing the shirt – watch the video. He cannot get it off quickly enough.
It is worth bearing in mind that Barcelona is the club of his youth. This isn’t like one of us having a Chelsea shirt shoved over our head by John Terry – the analogy is actually if you moved to Italy, played for Milan, loved it there but Arsenal were playing these games. It is unlikely you would react with the fury that some wished he had, and it is to his credit that he speedily removed a strip he wore countless times as a boy.
I can see only one way that Cesc will leave this summer, and that is if he hands in a transfer request. Even if he does, it is by no means certain he will leave – Barcelona have backed us into a corner with their pantomime playground bully act that to sell now would leave us looking exceptionally weak.
As I see it, this prank has achieved only two things. One, more neutrals are hoping we hang on to Cesc to stick two fingers up at the most blatant tapping up you’ll ever see and two, our resolve has strengthened to the point where discussions with Barcelona are likely to be short and curt. Two words will probably do the trick.
Let them play their ridiculous games. The more they disrespect us, the more we should take the higher ground.