Cesc Fabregas joined us at the tender age of 16 from Barcelona way back in 2003. Rumour has it, when he was nabbed, Louis Van Gaal, the then Barcelona coach left a note on the Barca Presidents desk saying, 'You've just lost one of the most talented players Barca have ever produced.'
Louis Van Gaal is no fool... boy was his prophecy on the money.
The Spaniard broke into the first the team early on, starring the a Carling Cup game against Rotherham. That appearance made him Arsenal's youngest ever 1st team player at 16 and 177 days. From then began the career of the greatest Arsenal player never to achieve 'legend' status.
Cesc had silky skills and a hair style he'd picked up from whatever the Spanish equivalent to 'My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding' was... it didn't take him long to see the light and chop his dodgy barnet. In his next game, he became our youngest ever goalscorer when he banged in a goal against Wolverhampton. He spent the rest of the season learning off one of the greatest sides the Premier League had ever seen. Serving and apprenticeship under the tutelage of Thierry Henry, Bobby Pires, Sol Campbell and Freddie Ljungberg is what dreams are made of. This gave him the inspiration and the hunger to move his game onto higher levels.
He started to feel his way into the side over the next couple of years, deputising for Patrick Vieira when the Frenchman picked up injuries. His time came after the FA Cup Final, the only trophy of his Arsenal career, when our legendary captain decided to try his hand in Italy.
09-10 represented Cesc's best season for Arsenal. For club and country he managed 19 assists and 23 goals. That summer, Barca came knocking. He went away to the World Cup, won it and during the celebrations Pepe Reina put a Barcelona shirt over his head
Cesc took over the reins against a back drop of scepticism. Arsenal had failed to land their chosen replacement for Paddy in the shape of Baptista, so instead decided stake all their chips on the tender shoulders of the ex-Barcelona youth player... a decision that kind of paid off. That season, Arsenal struggled in the Premiership, nearly losing out to Spurs for the highly coveted 4th place in the league on the last day of the season but on the flip side, they had a marvellous run in the Champions League beating the Galacticos of Real Madrid, taking out Patrick Vieira's Juventus along the way. Only the might of a Ronaldinho led Barcelona team managed to top us that season. With eleven men on the pitch, who knows what might have happened.
Anyway, Cesc was on the scene now, established as one of the finest talents in Europe.
He began to establish himself as a creative heavy weight of the league. He landed 23 assists and 13 goals during the 07-08 campaign. The next year injuries started to creep up on him, this was someone who'd been playing lots of games from a relatively tender age. His body was reacting to the importance Arsenal placed on his talent. He was given the captains armband in 08-09, but his season was mostly spent in the Colney medical centre with a knee injury. He still managed to make the Euro's that year, providing two vital assists as Spain beat Russia in the semi final. When he started the final and won, Barca started sniffing around.
09-10 represented Cesc's best season for Arsenal. For club and country he managed 19 assists and 23 goals. That summer, Barca came knocking. He went away to the World Cup, won it and during the celebrations Pepe Reina put a Barcelona shirt over his head. Highly embarrassing for Arsenal fans, but he was deemed to have Barcelona DNA, so pretty much anything went in terms of negative Arsenal press. He eventually met with Wenger to tell him he wanted out, but the coach made some exciting promises to Cesc and he decided to give it one more year.
Arsene Wenger didn't bolster that summer and the predictable niggly injuries started to creep into his game. People who work closely with him say he became ratty and moody at the training ground. He started making petulant mistakes as well. Handling the ball from a freekick to give Spurs a way back into a game we had dead and buried at the Emirates. He also back heeled Barcelona into the Champions League quarter final at the Camp Nou and he charged down a freekick against Liverpool with his hands leading to the infamous 98th minute goal against Liverpool.
The season was such a nightmare that at one point, Wenger claimed his injuries were all in his head. The writing was on the wall when Cesc gave an interview to Spanish news Publication Don Balon where he questioned Arsenal's strategy and over reliance on kids. Wenger denied the interview, only to be shown up when the paper produced the 'Cesc Tape' to prove they weren't lying.
This summer has seen some terrible behaviour unbefitting of a club captain. He's refused to comment on his future allowing Barcelona and their rabble of disrespectful players to round the human rights abuses Arsenal have placed on him. He faked injury for the first month of preseason and refused to involve himself in the clubs lucrative tour of Asia.
Trouble is, whichever way you look at it. Cesc didn't work out at Arsenal. One FA Cup in a team you couldn't really call his own isn't enough to merit Thierry like receptions.
He eventually rejoined the group but he was described to me as a 'bad apple' by a club source and the feeling was, he had to go. The club had no real choice. Because of his sulking and terrible attitude towards the club that gave him everything, Arsenal effectively lost out on at least £15million.
Trouble is, whichever way you look at it. Cesc didn't work out at Arsenal. One FA Cup in a team you couldn't really call his own isn't enough to merit Thierry like receptions. Fact is, we couldn't build a system around him that created a winning formula. Arsene Wenger didn't give Cesc the tools to succeed at Arsenal and that might come to be one of the biggest regrets of his career. However, maybe the Cesc style of football wasn't suited to the Premiership. Maybe the close one touch passing is too easily snuffed out by teams that defend in rows of four. Maybe the only way to build a winning team in the league is with power and pace?
The simple fact is, no player is bigger than the club. Arsenal can take this opportunity to build a new dynamic team around talents like Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Robin Van Persie. We can use the money we've earned from the Cesc deal to buy in a dominant centre back and a world class striker that can liven up the front line. We've already moved for Ryo Miyachi and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for extra pace from the wings which has given us a threat we never had during the Cesc Fabregas years.
I feel privileged to have seen a player of his talent and technique play at the Emirates. He'll win the Balon D'or, of that there is no doubt. However, his reputation as a person and a club captain will never match up to the true greats like Patrick Vieira and Tony Adams. He'll just be a reference point for a turbulentfive years most Arsenal fans would rather forget. He'll be a distant memory when Jack Wilshere leads a side to a league victory and shows what it means to be a true Arsenal great.
Cesc Fabregas, the greatest player Arsenal fans will never really care for? You'd better believe it.
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