By Les Crang, Sr. Cescarian
If some day I leave Arsenal it will never be to sign for another English team. I’m very sure….How it happened [that Fernando Torres joined Chelsea from Liverpool], in so few hours, I didn’t expect it. I didn’t imagine Torres leaving the Premiership, but neither that he would leave in the middle of the season.
How the lies fall so easily from Cesc’s mouth. In writing this, I will say first off, I will try to be fair to him and look at his career with us with an open mind. But be aware, I can write his name, but I always refer to him as ‘the Spanish player’. So, if I seen to be dismissive of his career, that’s only because of him being dismissive to us in 2011 when Barcelona finally turned his head. What a shame. He could have been a legend, but to me he joins Frank Stapleton, Robin Van Persie and Samir Nasri. A turncoat. That is why I could not put a picture up of him in Arsenal colours. Petty? Certainly.
How different it all seemed to be when he first joined us from Barcelona youth set up, the La Masia. Cesc had been seen by two of Arsenal’s scouts at the U17 world cup tournament, where he was player of the tournament, ending shared top scorer with 5 goals. They eventually lost the final to Brazil, 1-0:-
Cesc would be one of three signings that Wenger made in the close season in 2003, costing £500,000. The other two signings would be Gael Clichy from Cannes as an 18 year old and Jens Lehmann from Borussia Dortmund. An outlay of less than £3,000,000 for all three players. By the time all three had left, Arsenal would bank almost £45,000,000. But i’m getting ahead of myself.
Anyhow, Cesc would make his debut in the League Cup game against Rotherham aged 16 years and 177 days old. On learning of his debut Cesc said:-
Getting involved with the Carling Cup was a big surprise to me…Normally the coach gives the team out the day before but he didn’t do it so I thought I’d be on the bench.
Vic Akers came the day before and asked what name I wanted on my shirt, how am I called, you know, because nobody knows me. I am very shocked to be in the squad and could never imagine being part of the starting line-up.
I then found out after the game that my parents already knew I’d be involved because one of the club’s staff had called them so say, he’s going to play tomorrow so come and watch him in his first game at Highbury. They enjoyed it so much.
Cesc would play a mere two more games. The next would be against Wolves, whom Cesc would score against them in a 5-1 win:-
He has a brilliant future. He is fantastic. He can read the game really quickly. Nobody can say he is too young. I played first-team football with Cannes when I was seventeen.
The following season of 2004/5 Cesc would start to be a regular in the team, starting 24 games and 9 appearances as a substitute. Cesc would score his first league goal against Blackburn Rovers, the game that would create a record of 43 games undefeated over taking Nottingham Forest record of 42. The fans had started singing ‘He’s only 17, he’s better than Roy Keane’ (even though he was only 16). Wenger said afterwards:-
A boy of that age can have one good game but he is consistent, it is not stupid to say that he could be in the full Spain squad. They have a lot of midfielders but they shouldn’t be scared to bring him in.
If Cesc was impressing on the pitch with his feet, he was impressing with the fans, especially after ‘game 50’ at Old Trafford:-
After the match, rumours came out Cesc had confronted Sir Alex Ferguson, throwing a slice of pizza at the ‘great man’. This was later described by Ashley Cole, who said of ‘Battle of Buffet’ or Pizzagate afterwards in his biography:-
This slice of pizza came flying over my head and hit Fergie straight in the mush … all mouths gawped to see this pizza slip off this famous, puce face and roll down his nice black suit.
In his first full season, Cesc would be part of the FA Cup winning team of 2004/5 over Manchester United, when Patrick Vieira scored the winning penalty in the penalty shoot out.
The season of 2005/6 would certainly indicate that Cesc had taken the mantle of Paddy. This can obviously be seen in the march to the Champions League Final. Jon Spurling, wrote about Paddy’s return to Arsenal the following season with Juventus in the champions league game at Highbury. It was a match which featured Vieira, the former Arsenal midfield Genral, facing Fabregas, Arsenal’s fresh-faced midfield lieutenant:-
Robert Pires early tackle on Vieira, which set up Cesc Fabregas’s strike, but the symbolism was clear; it simply wasn’t to be Vieira’s or Juve’s night. Arsenal fan John Lowry recalls: ‘It was lovely to sit behind the North Bank goal, and just enjoy the fact that Arsenal were demolishing Juventus. The match was largely about Vieira,.’
Ironically, in the Champions League Final, with Arsenal down to 10 men, Barcelona started to see how good Cesc was when Barcelona, trying to put some ‘bite’ into the midfield had started with Mark Van Bommel, rather than the returning Iniesta. Ironically, it was not until Cesc was substituted and Iniesta came on for Barcelona that the Catalians took advantage of Arsenal being a player down to equalise and then win the game.
Over the next five years, Arsenal would get to see the best of Cesc, with him becoming a full international and appearing in the 2006 World Cup.
So where does one start with his great games? The season of 2007/8 was probably one of Cesc’s finest, with so many goals and great performances. Cesc had felt shackled by Thierry Henry whilst he was at the club saying:-
Henry intimidated us. He is a great player, but it was not easy to play alongside him.
Henry’s departure in 2007, meant Arsenal had a new team and certainly a new focal point in Cesc. Kevin Whitcher wrote ‘With Flamini and Fàbregas prepared to contest the midfield, the team actually contained a more robust spine from defence to attack’. How true.
The other day, I sat down to watch Arsenal – Season Review 2007/2008 (I’m sad like that). I forgot how many goals Cesc scored. Like The first equaliser against United at home:-
Or the equaliser against Liverpool:-
Maybe the goal away to Spurs:-
What about the goal against the European champions, AC Milan in the San Siro:-
So many great goals in a season which he would score 13 league and cup goals. It was not to hard to see that Wenger saw him as are most important player.
Cesc would have other great games for Arsenal. Perhap my two personal favourites being two 3-0 home wins. The first against Spurs in 2009, when Cesc scored a second goal from a Spurs kick-off, after RVP had put us 1-0 up (Sky was still showing RVP’s first when Cesc scored):-
Or maybe a couple months later when Cesc, with a thigh strain, was a substitute, came on for less than an hour, and scored two goals before being substituted. The Guardian headlined the game as ‘Cesc Fábregas’s brief masterclass keeps Arsenal upwardly mobile’.
By now, Cesc had taken over the captaincy at Arsenal from William Gallas, who had gone out late one night and been caught smoking. Many felt it was Gallas disintegration at Birmingham, after the Eduardo leg break that had made Arsene consider changing his captain.
On gaining the captaincy Cesc said:-
It is a great honour for me to captain one of the biggest clubs in the world.
It is a proud moment. I know it’s a big responsibility but together with my team-mates, I know we have the spirit and commitment to get back to winning ways and fulfill our potential.
Was Wenger right in building his team around him? Was Cesc really that great? To me no and no.
On Wenger building the team around him, actually, at the time (the season of 2004/5) it was tactically not. Matthew Whitehouse in his interesting book Universality – The Blueprint for Soccer’s New Era: How Germany and Pep Guardiola Are Showing Us the Future Football Game wrote :-
Cesc Fàbregas, Mathieu Flamini, and Alexander Hleb into the side. If this was Wenger’s belief – that the Spanish type of player was the future – then he was both right and wrong. The Spanish model of development, notably being put in place by Barcelona more so than others, was already over a decade old, having been set up around 1990 by Johan Cruyff. For Arsenal to overhaul their previous French/African type of player and style was risky, dangerous, and ultimately flawed.
Patrick’s departure was a huge loss. It did give Cesc [Fàbregas] the chance to break through, but I don’t think I’m being too controversial by saying that Arsenal have never replaced Patrick’s leadership since then.’
Cesc was constantly under rumor that he would return to Barcelona. This seemed a repeat of another former Captain constantly rumored to be going to Real Madrid, Patrick Vieira less than 10 years before. The incessant tapping up of Fabregas by Barcelona players, who would say things like ‘Cesc has Barca DNA’, became sickening. Then, Spain won the World Cup and on the return flight, out came the picture of Pepe Reina and Puyol putting a Barcelona shirt on Cesc. In fun and jest they said. It hardly enamoured him anymore to Arsenal and had made it abundantly clear he would only return to Barcelona if sold.
As for his greatness as a player, i’m not really that sure. Often, Cesc would have an outstanding opening four months and then just disappear for the rest of the season. Fallacy? check his goal scoring stats for 2007/8. Most of his goals were scored at the beginning of the season. Though it would be unfair to say he totally faded at the end of the season, as he won a World Cup (2010) and European (2008) for Spain. Always nice that he put that extra effort in.
I also feel Cesc’s departure from Arsenal was poorly handled. As summer 2011 approached, Cesc, Captain of Arsenal, flew off to attend the Spanish Grand Prix as his teammates fought for fourth place against Fulham, hardly “captaining” the team. His refusal to entertain moving to any other club, plus a refusal to train with and play for Arsenal in the summer, meant we lost Cesc to Barcelona for the pittance of £35,000,000.
Worse, his leaving meant the end of Wenger’s project youth and essentially dismantled an established Arsenal team. Gael Clichy had left earlier in the close season and Nasri left soon after Cesc. As Kevin Whitcher said:-
If it came to pass that three of his young stars, who were supposed to stay in north London for their most productive years summarily departed, then ‘Project Wenger’ would be dealt a fatal blow.
It certainly was a blow to Arsenal as a team bereft of their entire core lost 8-2 to Manchester United in our third game of the 2011/12 season.
But I was quite glad that Pep Guardiola finally did get Cesc at Barcelona. Their annihilation in 2011 of Manchester United in the Champions League final (before Cesc joined) was an outstanding spectacle of tiki-taka football.
Then Cesc joined. A player they did not need and could not fit into the team. They needed a new striker to replace David Villa and a centre half to replace an aging Carles Puyol really. What team drops Iniesta or Xavi for Cesc? No team and certainly not Barcelona. So what to do? Pep, in his recent book said :-
Look at my last year with Barça. We changed everything and started using a 3-4-3 system so that we could accommodate Cesc Fàbregas.
They played Cesc as a false 10 and it worked with limited effect. In fact with Messi now the main striker, in Cesc first season Messi scored 73 goals in all competitions. But with no Eto’o, Henry, Villa (often injured) or Zlatan to help with the scoring, Real Madrid won the title by 9 points. Cesc added a mere 16 goals.
By April 2014, with Pep gone and Cesc not a regular in the Barcelona team he was booed in a home game with Atletico Bilbao. This followed strong speculation during the January window that Cesc was going to join Robin van Persie at Man U. 50% of Barcelona fans wanted him sold. It seems they checked and Cesc was only 50% Catalan DNA.
Although many Arsenal fans (I was one of them – Tim) wanted him back in the summer, I was certainly not one of them. He had made his bed. He had gone to a team that didn’t need him and couldn’t use him. He was an extra in a cowboy film dressed as Robocop. He then hinted he wanted to come back to Arsenal, but in the end joined Chelsea. We had signed Mesut Ozil (a better player than Cesc in my mind), and although Chelsea look likely to win the 2014/5 title i’m not worried Cesc didn’t join us. Since the beginning of 2015 he has been anonymous until he scored against QPR recently.
Cesc certainly did give us some wonderful years and goals (see below for his 57 goals). But he also left us with a ‘fait accompli’ on his departure to Barcelona in 2011. Thankfully we replaced him with an excellent stop gap in the much maligned Mikel Arteta. And since the stadium and corporate sponsorship deals have started flowing in, Arsenal have started signing some great players in Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla, David Ospina, Gabriel Paulista, Olivier Giroud, Nacho Monreal and Alexis Sanchez. Cesc, at Chelsea, seems part of a machine. No longer the central point of a team. He is Eden Hazard’s water carrier. What a waste. Thankfully, we are moving in the right direction. I also do not think I am the only one who feels this. In So Paddy Got Up, Sian Ranscombe wrote of Cesc departure to Barcelona:-
I still think Dad summed up the feeling of the sad football fan the best with this comment: “I just get annoyed when people don’t love my club as much as me.” And isn’t that exactly it? Players can come and go, but we can’t. Or won’t.