Shortly before Cesc Fábregas set about reintroducing himself to English football, a couple of Chelsea fans in the old Cricket Field stand at Turf Moor unfurled a banner that seemed designed to get under the skin of any Arsenal supporters watching on television. “Cesc is Blue” felt like a declaration of ownership, referring to a player who had once declared he could never wear anyone’s colours in the Premier League apart from the red and white of Arsenal.

He is not an orthodox hero for his new club. His background is elsewhere in London and there is a history of previous with José Mourinho that had to be cleared up before he decided Stamford Bridge would offer him more job satisfaction than Barcelona. Yet Fábregas played like a man in a hurry to leave his mark and, in the process, his first competitive match for Chelsea reminded us of something that should not be overlooked when it comes to the art of controlling the ball.

It is that, in football, a pass can be every bit as beautiful as the 25-yard shot into the top corner that is immediately hailed as a goal-of-the-season contender. Fábregas’s touch for André Schürrle’s goal was in that category, weighted with such perfection it would have been almost impudent for the German not to supply the final flourish.

It was not only the deftness with which Fábregas caressed the ball but his anticipation of Schürrle’s run and the ability at high speed to take the sting out of the pass, so that when it did reach his team-mate there was nothing complicated about trying to control it. It was a great player’s pass, neatly summed up by the opening line of USA Today’s coverage. “Are you kidding me, Cesc?” their correspondent, Nate Scott, asked.

The word Mourinho used was “maestro” and there was certainly the clear sense from Chelsea’s manager that he intended to construct his entire team largely around the player who had grown weary of trying to break the Messi-Xavi-Iniesta stronghold at Camp Nou.

Barcelona, he said, had misused Fábregas, whereas he had studied him for years and knew precisely where he was at his most effective, providing he had a manager who fully trusted in him and understood his qualities.

Fábregas started from a deeper midfield position than the classic No10 role but with a licence to roam and the responsibility to dictate the side’s rhythm. He was, to put it another way, operating in the Xavi beat, whereas at Barcelona he had come to be regarded more as Lionel Messi’s understudy. “He was fantastic,” Schürrle said. “Always passing the ball, always running. A player like Cesc – every team would want him.”

Except, of course, we know that is not quite true. Arsenal had first option on their former player but nothing ever came of it and their supporters could probably be forgiven for feeling uneasy about whether that might eventually hurt them more than they would like to contemplate.

Likewise, it is tempting to wonder if Manchester United are already experiencing the ache of insecurity that comes from knowing they might have made a dreadful mistake. United spent a long time fluttering their eyelashes towards Fábregas and, for a good while, he returned the eye contact. Why they pulled out shortly after Louis van Gaal took the manager’s job has never been explained properly but United are desperately in need of some authentic class and one thing is for certain: they have been guilty of some dreadfully muddled thinking if they decided Fábregas was not, after all, an upgrade on what they already have.

Arsenal do at least already have a gifted collection of attacking midfielders to reassure them that they had more pressing areas of their squad to enhance. They cannot be doing too badly if there is also a debate at the moment about whether a player of Jack Wilshere’s refinement deserves his place and, between them, Mesut Özil, Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla and their supporting cast should be able to soothe the nagging feeling that they might have missed a trick.

They did discuss Fábregas’s availability at length before Chelsea intervened and Arsène Wenger has always kept in touch with the player he brought into Arsenal’s first team at the age of 16. It was just that the old connection between player and club had been lost. Fábregas is not entirely popular with the people who run Arsenal, where they have not forgotten how he behaved to pressure the club into selling him in the first place. More important, his former employers were left with the impression that he did not really want to come back. Fábregas, with his understanding of PR, would later state it was Arsenal who did not want him, as if he had been obediently waiting all along for them to make an offer. “We talked with Wenger but he said that he would find it difficult to make a place for me on the pitch as Özil had my position covered.” Arsenal will argue it was not that straightforward.

In United’s case, it is complex again and not at all easy trying to make sense of how a club with their need for improvement could abandon a year-long pursuit of the player just at the point when Barcelona had finally decided to do business.

Last summer, Fábregas let them know through various middlemen, including Robin van Persie, that he found the idea appealing but the club went in too low with their bids and Barcelona, while willing to do business, had politics to think about. Fábregas was one of their own and they did not want to be seen ushering him out unless he went public and asked to leave. It became a staring contest between the player and club. Neither blinked.

Earlier this year, there was another attempt from Old Trafford to lure him to Manchester. Again, he was attracted to the idea. The problem is that Van Gaal was not as keen as his predecessor, David Moyes, and United went back for another Spaniard, the uncapped Ander Herrera, whose £28.5m fee from Athletic Bilbao was £1.5m higher than Chelsea have paid Barcelona at this stage for Fábregas.

Herrera has plenty of attributes but what a strange set of events when the team that finished seventh in the league last season should suddenly decide Fábregas is not for them, even though he is capable of performances like the one at Burnley on Monday.

Fábregas, to put it into context, set up more goals in his first 45 minutes for Chelsea than Marouane Fellaini, Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley and Darren Fletcher managed for United throughout the whole of last season. He could have drastically improved Van Gaal’s team with his uncommon knack of seeing the pass and his ability, almost every time, to find a team-mate.

For Chelsea, of course, all of this is irrelevant. Too much can be read into one game sometimes, especially when this is the stage of the season that the sport tends to be rife with knee-jerk reactions. Equally, it does not feel as if it is presumptuous to say Chelsea already look a better team now Fábregas is alongside Nemanja Matic in midfield.

Their gain comes at the expense of two of their rivals – if United, in the current form, can be described in that manner – and that, one imagines, will only heighten Mourinho’s enjoyment now his new player is playing with such distinction in his change of colours.