Cesc Fabregas' long awaited return to his boyhood club finally materialized Monday when he signed a five-year contract with European champion Barcelona.
"It took a lot of years, months, days to get here … it's nice to be home after eight years," the former Arsenal captain said in Catalan during his presentation to fans at the Camp Nou stadium, where he continuously kissed the Barcelona crest.
But while the 24-year-old Fabregas said it was one of the happiest days of his life to once again don Barcelona's burgundy and blue, he acknowledged it was also bittersweet that he didn't leave Arsenal as a winner.
"I gave everything [with Arsenal]. But it didn't show in the club because I really only won an FA Cup," Fabregas said. "One of my biggest regrets is not leaving Arsenal with a championship."
Fabregas joined Arsenal in 2003 as a 16-year-old prospect from Barcelona's "La Masia" football academy. Within a month the Catalan playmaker became the youngest starter in Arsenal's history at 16. Arsenal went on to play some of the most attractive football in Europe.
The major titles, however, never came.
"It wasn't really the losing, it was the routine. Year after year, it was always the same story," Fabregas said. "Fighting until the end only to see we didn't have the energy, in the semifinals, the finals, to arrive in the final sprint."
Fabregas, who has known victory with Spain as a world and European champion, said his goal is to "triumph in Barca, to add my part to make this team stronger."
Fabregas is expected to train with his new teammates later Monday, when he would get his first taste of where exactly he will fit into Barcelona's talented squad, which already includes Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Alexis Sanchez.
"This is the most difficult challenge of my life," Fabregas said. "When you play with great players you learn a lot. I'll work hard for the team, with humility, to earn my spot in the team and I won't stop until I do so."
Barcelona sports director Andoni Zubizarreta said that Fabregas won't only provide the three-time defending Spanish champions more versatility in midfield, but the squad also receives a player who is fully immersed in "Barca's culture."
With Fabregas, Barcelona hopes it has found the natural successor to the 31-year-old Xavi and the 27-year-old Iniesta, and a possible mentor for 20-year-old Thiago Alcantara, who should also get minutes this season in midfield.
Barcelona said it paid 29 million euros ($42 million Cdn) to Arsenal with extra variables set to take the figure to 39 million euros ($56 million Cdn).
Fabregas himself will pay the Gunners one million euros ($1.4 million Cdn) out of his salary for each season of the deal and the Spanish champions will pay up to five million euros ($7 million Cdn) more depending on trophies won.
The contract also includes a buyout clause of 200 million euros ($286 million Cdn).
Fabregas announced his desire to move back to Barcelona after the 2009-10 season, but Arsenal refused to sell its most valuable player and Fabregas agreed to stay for one more year. A similar story line played out this off-season with the Arsenal captain again stating his desire to return to Spain, and Arsenal trying to fend off Barcelona's interest.
"There have been some long weeks, months, of suffering. Not the worst suffering of my life, but yes these have been difficult days not knowing what my future would be," said Fabregas, who will wear the same No. 4 his boyhood idol and current coach Pep Guardiola donned. "It appeared it would never end."
Barcelona had reserved the No. 4 for Fabregas since last year after Rafa Marquez left it empty with his exit.
This off-season, Fabregas sat out most of Arsenal's pre-season campaign, with the club citing an injury worry, and he was not selected for the team's Premier League opener on Saturday — a 0-0 draw at Newcastle.
While the last two years had been hard, Fabregas cited Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger as one of the keys in his development as a player and his subsequent move.
"Wenger is a special person to me. He'll always be a second father to me," Fabregas said. "I'll never be able to find the words to express my thanks for what he did for me. I think he has a been given a bad image here and that shouldn't be the case. If I'm here, a big part of that is thanks to him."
Fabregas scored 57 goals in 303 appearances for Arsenal. He has played 58 times for the Spanish national team and was part of the squads that won the 2010 World Cup and 2008 European Championship.
Fabregas could make his debut Wednesday at the Camp Nou as the Spanish champions play Real Madrid in the return leg of the Spanish Supercup after a 2-2 draw in Sunday's first leg.
"I am physically ready," Fabregas said, "but it is the coach's decision."