Words: Carl Escoffier
Images: Offside Sports

Sunday, 1st of May 2016, in an overpriced restaurant by Harrods, I saw him. Holding the door open for him and his absurd amount of kids as he hopped into a blacked out Range Rover. A day later, Fàbregas controls the side that comes back from 2–0 down to ruin Spurs’ title hopes and give it over to the Ranieri’s Leicester. Being at that game, seeing Fàbregas pinging balls left right and centre from the halfway line in a tumultuous season left me in bliss.

Flashback to summer of 2014, sneaking Coronas with my mates into the garden after finishing my GCSEs. Mourinho’s back at the Bridge and a signing’s announced: £30,000,000 for Cesc Fàbregas. I can still remember the photo, Fàbregas posing in some wooden hotel room with his new club’s shirt adorned. We’d thrown Waitrose own-brand celery at him for Christ’s sake, back when he was at Arsenal scrapping with Lampard. I should have been upset, but I couldn’t be happier.

This was Cesc Fàbregas, a man who spent years as captain for Arsenal followed by a move to Barcelona, a team that a Chelsea fan will hate till the end of time. Yet in his first game, seeing him chip a through ball to André Schürrle, cutting open the Burnley defence, cemented what I already knew. I bloody love Cesc Fàbregas.

I didn’t care about anyone else’s comments: ‘He’s lazy, selfish, he’s still a Gooner’. It didn’t matter one bit. Seeing Fàbregas lift a perfect aerial strike of an assist from the halfway line for mad bastard Costa to dink it over Szczęsny was fucking beautiful. And they just couldn’t stop linking up, playing an all-Spanish rendition to the tune of vintage Lampard and Drogba. Fàbregas kissing the badge about a month into his time as a blue made me want to treat him to a dozen Aperol Spritzes as we watched the sun set over West London.

Even later on in his first season, Fàbregas had done as much as he could to win over Chelsea fans, but still not all of them were sold on him. All that changed on an absurdly sunny day in the 88th minute at Loftus Road. Fàbregas walloped the ball straight past poor old Rob Green’s haggard hands to hand us our first title in five years. Then it had happened. You’d shut your eyes tight, and you wouldn’t see Fàbregas adorned with a huge 02 logo or in a mullet with frosted tips. You saw him matured, perfected. With 3-day old stubble and hair slicked back into submission. Smacking balls diagonally across the pitch with his blue collar always in a mess. It felt like he’d always been in SW6.

Even after Mourinho left us in the relegation zone and crap fans branded Fàbregas a rat again, I just couldn’t turn on him. The man changed games. You couldn’t take your eyes off him. Hazard would turn players’ legs to jelly and Costa would go all tonto on centre backs, yet it was Fàbregas that I couldn’t stop staring at. Fàbregas understood the game and weaved it better than my nan’s knitting.

When Conte came in, he was an angry Italian, refusing to acknowledge Fàbregas. Conte wanted 90 minutes of sweat and blood, seeing Fàbregas as dead weight. Fàbregas didn’t need to change his style; all he needed was 12 minutes as a sub to show off. Against Watford, Cesc’s effortlessly lofted ball to Costa confirmed what many Chelsea fans knew but didn’t say out loud: We weren’t ready to let him go. Cesc found a way to work within Conte’s machine even while he was starved appearances, getting 12 assists in only 13 starts. Out of all the pain Conte caused me—that text message to Costa or buying Danny Drinkwater—taking so long to be won over by Fàbregas was his biggest mistake.

Now with Fàbregas off to Monaco, what is Chelsea going to do without him? Sarri ball is all well and good, and Jorginho’s passing stats as high as the amount of cigs Mr. 33 chews down in a day. But he’s just not Cesc. Jorginho goes up and down the pitch, he jockeys, he plays the sensible pass. Fàbregas didn’t do that. He’s content to jog, deigning to do whatever the hell he wants because he knew he was going to do something magic. Lining up replacements for him that aren’t known outside of the Ultimate Team ultras just doesn’t make sense. I’d love nothing more than to be at the Bridge, paying far too much for some warm Thai beer and seeing Cesc doing what he does best, being the heartbeat of Chelsea’s midfield, one more time.

Still, his time is at an end. Enjoy the tax haven, mate, and the yacht that’s probably included in your contract. I’m gonna miss ya. Like the man himself said after Michy’s league-winning goal: ‘Football is fucking unbelievable.’

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