Words: Mike Backler
Images: Offside Sports Photography
Cesc Fàbregas has played a lot of football. Over 750 games, actually. And, from the moment he made his debut at Arsenal as a 16 year old, he's done things a bit differently. Moved the ball quicker. Brought it under control easier. Saw lines faster. Across a career that has seen him play football for some of the most influential characters football has seen in the last 20 years—think Arsène, think Jose, think Pep—it always looked like he was enjoying it. Like he really liked football. Which is something, as a fan, you love to see. You do love to see it.
Ahead of the Europa League final between Chelsea and Arsenal this week, we sat down at a Baku cafe over some Amstel to talk about putting one (two) in on Vieira, get some Sunday League advice, and purr over the power of Aleksandr Golovin's legs.
MB: Cesc, there are some great moments in your career. I wanted to start by mentioning two that really stood out for me. Firstly, it’s Highbury 2006; you’re playing Juventus in the Champions League quarterfinal. You’re 18, and you’re up against the man you’ve replaced in Patrick Vieira. You score one, set one up for Henry, and put in one absolute beaut of a challenge on Vieira.
CF: Two (smiles). I got him, twice.
MB: Sorry, two. It really felt like this was the moment that people were saying, ok, this kid’s special. What do you remember about that night?
CF: This was a big day for me to prove to everyone because there was doubt. I was only 18. Yes, I was doing well when I was playing but sometimes, you know, it’s difficult to trust an 18-year-old when one of the biggest legends of your club has left. It was going to be a big test for me, playing against a big historical team like Juventus, in Highbury, against him personally as well, in midfield. This was a turning point really, for people to realise that we can trust him, he could be the future for us. I think it was a sensational feeling, performance and everything was spot on.
MB: Then there’s one with Chelsea. You’ve just signed for them and everyone’s thinking. How will this work? Under a new style with Mourinho. It’s the first game of the season against Burnley, and you produce this incredible first time assist for Schürrle. I remember in that moment thinking, I think Chelsea are gonna win the league here.
CF: I remember about that night, I remember that assist very, very well. Coming out of the pitch, I got Man of the Match, and I did an interview with Sky Sports, with John Terry. And I remember him talking to the journalist and saying that this is the best football he has seen since he is at Chelsea and that was my first ever game for Chelsea and he had been for there for 15 years or something and that meant a lot to me. I knew that I had a little bit of an impact and that was a great day for me. When it comes to different styles, I have been asked to do many different roles. I played many times from the right under Arsène Wenger when I was first getting into the team. Then I played deeper, then behind one striker. I played one of my best games ever under Pep on the left wing. I also played as a false nine when we won the Euros, and I was like, oh my god, what am I doing here. But that season with Chelsea was fantastic.
MB: You’ve played and lived in London since you were 16, a majority of your life. Is London where you call home?
CF: Yes, 100%.
MB: What do you love about living there?
CF: Absolutely everything. The people, the football. London has some of the best restaurants in the world. Some of my friends in Barcelona, say ‘oh, the weather, how do you do it’ but I honestly never thought about it that way. You just adapt. Like when people ask me how I moved away at 16 into such a team. Arsenal were playing brilliant football, I had just won top scorer at the Under 17 World Cup, I was playing with these players in training every day, Pirès, Henry. And I knew how to play. I loved the challenge. I have a very privileged life, and I have been very lucky to do what I love.
MB: You went on to be part of a Spain side that dominated World Football. Spanish club sides have dominated European Competitions for some time now, with Real and Barça, and Sevilla in the Europa League. This year, we’ve seen England go to Seville and win. We’re now seeing 4 English teams in the European Finals. I don’t think there’s anyone more qualified to ask: is this a one-off or are we seeing a change in power?
CF: For me, it has always been closer than many people say. England are very, very close to Spain. Both with clubs and the national team. For me, it comes down to one thing, and that is the Christmas and winter break. For me, personally, I absolutely loved this period. All my family would come over, we would have beautiful food, we would celebrate, and I would play 3, 4 times, and they would all come to watch, and we would have a fantastic time together. I love it. But it doesn’t work as by February or March or by the end of the season you are so tired. This is why it is incredible what Liverpool are doing, under Klopp. I have never seen a team being able to play this way, like the second leg against Barcelona. This type of running all season. The pressing. It is amazing.
MB: Finally, Cesc. This one’s for me. I’m a 34-year-old, I’d like to say, ‘cultured’ Sunday league centre midfielder, so I have a couple of years more experience than you in that role. In fact, some have called me the “Cesc Fàbregas of the Express Cabs Maidstone Sunday League.”
CF: (Laughs) This is good.
MB: What can I do to adapt my game to prolong my career?
CF: Are you an attacking midfielder or defensive?
MB: Used to be attacking. I’m now drifting towards defensive. I’m a ball player, Cesc.
CF: Ok, for me, it is about choosing when to run. When I was at Arsenal, I would never say I was fast, but I was quick off the mark. I played behind Van Persie, and I could run into dangerous areas behind defenders. I could move quickly to get to the ball and into tackles. From about 27, 28 I had to play a bit differently. More in a number 6 role. I would choose when to go. You have to protect the ball and be clever. I have to be very clever also in my warm up. At Monaco we have a player: Golovin, he is 23.
MB: Ah yes, left-footed guy
CF: No, right.
CF: The minute he runs out to train, bam! (Does huge thwack movement) He kicks, the ball, shoots, hits it hard. I am like whoa, I can not do that now. He has no idea how much I would give everything to do this. At Arsenal, me and Reyes would be like this, running around all training. I think the main thing is your warm up, take your time.
MB: And should I cut out the two Amstels after the game?
CF: You definitely have to stop this!
Cesc Fàbregas was speaking on behalf of Amstel, Official Partners of the UEFA Europa League. For more information, please visit amstelbier.co.uk.
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