- Associated Press - Monday, August 15, 2011

BARCELONA, SPAIN (AP) - Cesc Fabregas’ long awaited return to his boyhood club finally was finalized 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 Camp Nou, where he repeatedly kissed the Barcelona crest on his new No. 4 jersey.

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. 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 academy. Within a month the Catalan playmaker became the youngest starter in Arsenal’s history at 16.

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, a member of Spain’s 2008 European champions and 2010 World Cup winners, said his goal is to “triumph in Barca, to add my part to make this team stronger.”

Fabregas trained with his new teammates later on Monday, getting his first taste of where exactly he will fit into Barcelona’s talented squad, which already includes Lionel Messi, Spanish teammates Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, and fellow newcomer Alexis Sanchez.

A set starter with Arsenal, Fabregas accepts he’ll share playing time at Barcelona.

“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.”

As a youngster, Fabregas played with Messi and defender Gerard Pique on Barcelona’s youth teams.

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) to Arsenal, with provisions to increase the amount to 39 million euros ($56 million).

Fabregas himself will pay the Gunners 1 million euros ($1.4 million) out of his salary for each season of the deal, and the Spanish champions will pay up to 5 million euros ($7 million) more depending on trophies won.

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