To have played more than 150 games for Arsenal’s first team before you have reached your 20th birthday, you have to be a little bit special, and Francesc ‘Cesc’ Fàbregas Soler certainly is.
Cesc Fàbregas, born in Catalonia on May 4th, 1987, is still regarded by Barcelona fans and officials as ‘the one that got away’, having been brought all through their ranks as a star of the future only to be snatched away by Arsenal in the summer of 2003, before he had signed his first fully professional contract with the Catalan giants – and immediately after being voted the player of the tournament at the FIFA Under 17 World Championships in Finland. The loss of the young Cesc caused such a furore at the Barcelona club that they immediately took steps to make sure a similar thing never happened in the future – a classic case of shutting the stable door after the thoroughbred horse had bolted over to London, lured by Arsene Wenger’s promise of being able to break into the first team there more easily.
Cesc had always been the shining star of Barcelona’s youth policy, a polished midfielder who had once scored 30 goals in a season for them, and he initially found the transition to England and its different culture and weather difficult but his manager had enough faith in him to hand him his first team debut, in a League Cup tie against Rotherham, as early as October 23rd, 2003 – becoming, at 16 years and 177 days, the Gunners’ youngest-ever debutant. Later in the same competition, against Wolves, he became the youngest goalscorer in Arsenal history.
The following season saw Cesc continuing his remarkable development – becoming the club’s youngest ever league goalscorer and showing a remarkable maturity for someone being given the responsibility of being a playmaker in midfield at such a young age. It was this ‘old head on young shoulders’ that always made Fàbregas such an outstanding prospect – not only were his touch and range of passing exceptional, it was his vision on the pitch that really captivated followers. At the end of his first full season, Cesc won his first major honour by being in the F.A. Cup winning team which defeated Arsenal’s great rivals, Manchester United.
Cesc’s development at Arsenal has continued steadily since that first season, culminating in being awarded the Player of the Season trophy by Arsenal fans in June, 2007, polling an incredible 60% of the votes – against some not inconsiderable opposition, it must be remembered. Arsenal supporters love not only his skill but also his wholehearted commitment to their cause and his frequent public statements of loyalty to the club, its manager and its fans. Real Madrid and Barcelona make regular overtures him each summer and you can be sure that, when there are international get-togethers, their players try to woo Cesc back to La Liga but, for the moment at least, he insists he has many more ambitions to fulfil in the Premiership and Europe playing for Arsenal.
Internationally, Cesc’s full debut for Spain was in 2006 and he became the youngest ever Spaniard to play in the World Cup in the fixture against Ukraine in June of that year. It was in 2007, though, that the rather conservative coach, Luis Aragones, finally did what the Spanish public had been clamouring for, and made the young player a pivotal part of his midfield and this helped bring about a transformation in the team’s form. Indeed, after looking as if they would not qualify for the European Championships in 2008, Spain, with Cesc at the hub of their impressive midfield quartet, eventually finished top of their qualifying group in some style.
Cesc was in the UEFA team of the year in 2006 – and reminds many people of the great Michel Platini. His own playing hero, though, remains the Barcelona legend Josep ‘Pepe’ Guardiola.
One can only speculate as to just how good a player Cesc Fàbregas could one day become as, already, there can be no doubt that he is one of the very best midfielders in world football.