Cesc Fabregas isn’t quite a legend at any of his clubs, always just a level below world class. But he was bloody marvellous nonetheless.
It’s a bit weird that his career at the very top level is over, isn’t it? It’s not so long since a 16-year-old prodigy was poached by Arsenal from the renowned La Masia academy, ready to make an impact on not just his new team but the Premier League as well. At least it doesn’t feel that long.
It’s been 15 years, for those of you who weren’t counting, in which time my infant brother has become an adult. In that same period the silky midfielder has achieved a hell of a lot. There have been cups, league titles and a World Cup in between. The most recent edition of the Sunday Supplement on Sky Sports went as far to say that he altered the English top flight forever. And yet there’s the nagging feeling that he hasn’t done quite as well as he possibly could.
At Arsenal he was deemed to be the next world class play-maker, yet he was unable to lead the club back to the elite level.
At Barcelona it was foretold that he was the heir apparent to Xavi, but his time there coincided with the three year period the team didn’t win the Champions League. With Ivan Rakitic in his place, they would do so the season he left for Stamford Bridge.
At Chelsea he won two league titles, but aside from his first season in South West London, his place became increasingly less significant as time went on.
And that’s why, after four seasons and four trophies at the Blues, Fabregas is being allowed to leave midway through the campaign to join his former teammate Thierry Henry at AS Monaco.
Ligue 1 is the ideal place for the Spaniard to play out his final years, a competitive setting without the kind of physicality and speed of the Premier League for which he is now too much of a luxury.
At his best though, Fabregas was an artist. A creative force with mesmeric ability to put the ball wherever he so chose, he wasn’t one for constructing geometric shapes through complex passing angles. Craft over science, Picasso over Newton.
Fabregas, like all great play-makers, simplified the state of play in a way that makes any game he’s involved in all the more enjoyable to watch. His first match back in the Premier League was the perfect example of this, reminding everyone what they had missed for three years.
Taking on a Burnley side in a low block, Fabregas slips into space unnoticed. When the ball arrives at his feet there are eight defenders in front, with no obvious way through. With one exquisite touch he takes every single out of the game, finding Andre Schurrle in a picture perfect position.
Assists like that bore the Iberian deftness he brought to English football, but having come to London at such a young age, English football left an indelible mark on him too. It has turned him into a hybrid, the Anglo-Spaniard who could pass you to death while enduring the intensity of the Premier League. I am loathe to lean on that cliché, but it is true, and probably even helped him be a better player.
Not only did he have the speed of thought to execute moves in the split seconds offered to any midfielder in the modern game, but he was also surrounded by the kind of pacey players who could bust a gut to get in place at the right moment. It didn’t really matter how quick they were though, because he could find anyone with a pass.
Fabregas joined Chelsea at the same time as Diego Costa, and they quickly got acquainted, teaming up to push Chelsea towards the title.
The midfielder will never be revered on the same level as Frank Lampard or John Terry, but he was certainly loved by the Chelsea faithful, as evidenced by the crowd reaction during his final appearance last week. Perhaps that is why he reacted so emotionally to coming off against Nottingham Forest.
Barcelona has always been considered his spiritual home, but he never received nearly as much adoration. Now, for a man that provided them with 51 assists and 42 goals over 151 games, that seems a bit mental, but it shows the high standards players are expected to meet at Barça.
Fabregas, as marvellous as he was, has never quite reached a world-class level and may not be remembered as a club legend at any of the teams for which he played. But like any artist he needed a muse, and he found it in the Premier League. That’s where you’ll find his finest work.