Legends of Club Football: Cesc Fabregas
The words ‘Arsenal‘ and ‘legends’ have been synonymous in the football world. The Gunners have had a rich heritage and have boasted of an illustrious ensemble of legends. The likes of Charlie George, Pat Rice, Tony Adams, Thierry Henry, Denis Bergkamp and Patrick Vieira have donned the Red and White jersey with pride and have etched a permanent place in the hearts of the fans.
However, not all legends are remembered for their invincibility and aura. Some carve their names in history because of their vulnerability and faux pas. One such name is that of Francesc Fàbregas Soler. Whenever one mentions him, there’s an uneasy twitch among all the Arsenal fans. His name brings a silent smile on every fan’s face coupled with a feeling of melancholy, deep within. Most fans today didn’t witness the Invincible era and he was perhaps the last “Great” that the Gunners churned out.
In 2003, when Arsenal swooped for the 16-year-old from Camp Nou, Louis Van Gaal, the then coach, left a note on the Catalan President’s desk,
‘You’ve just lost one of the most talented players Barca has ever produced.’
True to his prophecy, Cesc amazed the world with his brilliance. He stepped into the Invincibles to replace the talismanic Patrick Vieira when he left for Juventus. He was not only the youngest player to make it to the first XI; he also became the youngest to score for the Gunners. Due to a much smaller frame, the pundits doubted his ability to replace the void that Vieira left, but he went about in his own style and forced Arsenal to change according to his astonishing ability.
But talent aside, did Cesc do enough to earn a place among the legends of the Gunners? Had he hung in for a couple of more seasons and picked up some silverware, the fans would have ticked off the box without batting an eyelid.
But he didn’t. He went home.
Neither did he stay on to join the elite group of loyalists. In fact, there is more than one testament as to why he shouldn’t be considered a Legend. He left the club being a part of “not-enough-trophies” bandwagon. Clearly, one FA Cup win isn’t enough to command Henry or Adams-like accolades. He questioned Arsenal’s ambitions and their strategy of being over reliant on “kids” in his ‘Cesc Tape’ controversy. When he was denied a move to the Catalan giants, things soured even more. He faked injury during the pre-season and refused to travel with the club to Asia. He disgraced the club fans by not resisting Pepe Reina, Carles Puyol and Gerrard Pique forcing the Barca jersey over him after the Spanish World Cup glory. He kept shut when Puyol made statements like,
“He has to stay at a club where he no longer wants to be for another year…I wonder how intelligent it is keeping a player who doesn’t want to be there. After seven years of great service, I thought Arsenal could have granted him his dream move.”
Not only did his off field misdemeanors hurt Arsenal, his on field contributions also hit a downward vortex. He became temperamental at the training ground and Arsenal was hit worse when he started making juvenile errors in important games. His infamous back heel against Barcelona in the Champions League quarter final at the Camp Nou and his idiocy against Liverpool leading to the 98th minute goal will always be painfully remembered. He was described as the ‘rotten apple’ and Wenger had no choice but to let him loose.
But was Arsenal entirely fair to him? Did he have enough ammunition to fire Arsenal to greater glory? He took over the arm band from William Gallas at an age of 21. Neither was he Tony Adams nor did he have a great team. Arsenal’s move from Highbury to the Emirates made a dent in their transfer policy and Arsene Wenger was left with youngsters to forge a winning team. Fabregas led a team with an average age of twenty-three who evidently didn’t have the maturity to handle the heavy badge bearing the cannons.
Though Arsenal’s trophy count took a major hit, Fabregas established himself as one of the heavy weights in the business. He created chances and kept scoring whenever he was moved up the pitch. His assist ratio was envious but a poor strike force up front saw Arsenal’s miseries mount further. The team’s failure placed him under severe criticism and he was labeled as a docile leader. Statistics, however, presents a different picture of the Spanish playmaker. 57 goals in 303 matches during his eight year tenure – Fabregas orchestrated the style of football that the Gunners played. His skills were second to none and he knew when to step in to step up the tempo.
However, Fabregas’ failure to inspire Arsenal to greater heights will always haunt his legend. True, he will always be one of the best in the world but the Gunners will never mention him in the same breath as Adams, Henry and Vieira. But one can’t take away what he did with an average side over the eight years he stayed. He never had the services of a fully fit Robin Van Persie and had to manage with half-baked strikers. The classy Eduardo broke his leg and Cesc was stranded with a moody Adebayor and a misfiring Bendtner. He fought on with them and even made Adebayor score 30-plus goals, but it was not enough to win Leagues and Championships.
The fans might not like it but if one had to nominate one player from the Emirates era to have a statue erected outside the stadium, there aren’t many names except this Catalan maestro. For most, he will be the greatest player that they will choose to ignore for what he didn’t do but to a few, he will always be a legend for what he did.
“It’d be nice if he came back one day – the door is always open for him because of what he did at Arsenal.” – Jack Wilshere
Will he return to London again? Does Arsenal need him anymore? The fans might twitch their noses and join the “We have Santi and Jack…” parade but deep down, they would love to see the diminutive number 4 walk out in Red and White again. If he ever does, that would be a fairy tale and the legend of “Cesc” will turn into Legend….naah let’s not even wait for it!
Here’s a video compilation of Fabregas’ best moments in an Arsenal shirt.
Read about more such Club Legends here.