If the rumours are to be believed, then Cesc Fabregas will be looking for his fourth professional club when the January transfer window opens. Of course, it is still a case of “ifs”, and one can never be too careful when reading tabloid fare. However, if it turns out to be true, Fabregas would have to go through the all too familiar feeling of wearing out his welcome. For a player of such undeniable talent, it is a little bizarre to witness him go through this yet again—and all before his 30th birthday.
The first time I watched Fabregas play, he was a 17 year old, mullet bearing number 15 playing in the heart of the Arsenal midfield against Everton at Goodison Park in 2004. It was the opening weekend of the 2004/05 Premiership season. Who was this teenage stranger replacing on the team sheet? Just club legend and captain, Patrick Vieira.
But much in the same way this same fixture had thrust a certain prodigious Englishman (and current England captain) into national acclaim two seasons prior, this match was an introduction to one of the world’s brightest teenage talents. He may not have sent the sports pages into overdrive the way Wayne Rooney did but make no mistake, Fabregas put in an incredibly mature performance on the day. He continued to produce startingly mature performances against Norwich, Middlesbrough and Blackburn Rovers. Vieira’s absence was barely felt – such was the level Fabregas played at. He would go on to play 46 games for Arsenal that season in all competitions—thereby making more appearances than Vieira, Flamini, Edu, and Gilberto Silva.
Fabregas the teenager was quite simply a marvel to watch. Here was a kid who played with the composure and conviction of a man at least 10 years older. To put it into perspective, before his 20th birthday:
- He became one of Arsenal’s key players in the road to the club’s only Champion’s League Final in 2006.
- He established himself as a starter in Luis Aragones’ heavily fancied Spanish side in the 2006 World Cup. This was despite competition from Senna, Xabi Alonso and Iniesta.
- He played in every league game for Arsenal in their 2006/07 campaign, establishing himself as the club’s new symbol.
At Arsenal, Fabregas had the perfect platform to display his unique talents. The Spaniard, at his best, could be described as a combination of Andrea Pirlo and Steven Gerrard. Like the former, he is a highly cerebral player who always plays with his head up, is an artful short and long range passer and is excellent at set pieces. But his lethal finishing (when played in advanced positions) and his tendency to look for the killer pass makes him similar to Gerrard. Unfortunately for Fabregas, he lacks some of the more essential elements these two had. For instance, Pirlo always played the game patiently, which is something Fabregas doesn’t do so well. It is this patience that enabled the Italian schemer be so essential to the Juventus, Milan and Italy sides he played in. It is pretty damning that the same Conte that bought Pirlo from AC Milan and gave him a new lease of life in his Juventus team cannot find a place for Fabregas in his Chelsea team.
As for the other comparison, Gerrard was a player of almost boundless energy and titanic strength. His physical strengths meant that he could be influential in an attacking or defensive capacity. Fabregas lacks this physicality. This means he can only be influential in a system designed for him. But until now (and he is 29), he hasn’t proven he can be trusted with the responsibility of being the lynchpin for an elite side.
This is the strange situation Fabregas now finds himself in. His strengths are undeniable. He possesses qualities that any team in the world would love to have. But his weaknesses are too glaring for any big team to ignore. It is rather ironic then that the one side that allowed him full expression of his unique talents didn’t match his ambitions. This is the curious case of Fabregas. A player with his record, who has won practically every trophy there is to win, has the right to be ambitious. However, having won it all, he might be best off establishing himself at a smaller club like Payet (West Ham), Ginola (Tottenham), or Juninho (Middlesbrough) did. It would mean less trophies and definitely less money, but his talents will be in full display again. Like they were that one early August afternoon in 2004 at Goodison Park.