Cesc Fabregas exclusive: ‘I gave absolutely everything and more for Arsenal, I’ll be grateful to the fans forever’
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Even now, nearly nine years on from his chance to return home, the division that exists among the Arsenal fanbase on Cesc Fabregas’ legacy at the club clearly still stings.
The majority of Gunners supporters still hold the Spaniard in the highest regard despite his defection to Barcelona and subsequent move to Chelsea but a vocal minority will never be able to accept his spell at Stamford Bridge and the success he achieved there.
From spending roughly 45 minutes in his company at his new home of Como 1907’s training ground on the outskirts of the city and quizzing him on several subjects, it becomes abundantly clear how much he still loves Arsenal - and how acutely aware he is of the fans who still cherish him and those who perhaps don’t.
His move to Italy - and more specifically the idyllic setting of Como - has allowed him to take the next step of his career as he bids to move into coaching once he eventually decides to hang up his boots.
Fabregas recently confirmed that Arsenal were given first refusal to buy him back from Barcelona as part of the terms of the deal that took him back to his boyhood club from the Emirates Stadium and his comments opened the debate once more among supporters on how his legacy should be remembered.
I asked the 35-year-old what his message to Arsenal supporters would be in that context. Watch the video below to hear his answer in full.
“Listen, no one can ever say I have said anything bad or negative about Arsenal in my life, my career because you can never find it,” he tells SPORTbible.
“So it was what it was at the time, people go through different times, different moments and sometimes things happen for a reason, sometimes things happen that you never expected and that’s life.
“I also went to Barcelona thinking I would be there for the next 10 years and I was there for three years and then I had to change. I never expected that I would be playing in Serie B at Como and here I am so it is what it is.
“Different stages of life, of career and sometimes you need to take the best choice for yourself so I cannot tell you I regret anything that I have done or chosen in my career because I always thought in that moment that was the best thing for me and my family.
“And wherever I have been I have been lucky enough to win and to improve and to learn, that’s all I can say.
“I gave my all [for Arsenal] for eight full years, I played sick, I played the day my Grandad died in the morning of a Champions League day.
“They asked me to go home, I said no, I want to play and I went the day after to the funeral so sick, with a broken leg, whatever you want, I was always there for the club in good times, in more difficult times and that’s it, that’s the only thing I can say.
“I’ve always been super happy there, grateful forever - to the fans, to the club, to Arsene [Wenger], to my teammates and there’s not much I can say. After, everyone will have their opinions like they happen to have for every single person or player in the world but I know myself that I gave my absolutely everything and more for the club while I was there.”
At the time of his exit from Barcelona in 2014, Wenger and Arsenal were blessed with a wealth of midfield options and the idea of cramming Fabregas into a midfield already containing the likes of Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere felt ambitious.
It was a significant factor behind why the Frenchman ultimately opted against bringing his former prodigy back to the Emirates Stadium and, having let the contractual 10 days without speaking to another club pass, Fabregas eventually settled on Stamford Bridge as his next destination.
But when I put it to Fabregas about how he could have fared alongside those mentioned, he still wonders to this day what might have been.
“Sometimes I think about it,” he reveals. “We won the Euros with Spain with six midfielders, it could have been the same really but life goes the way it goes and that’s it.
“I did go to Chelsea and it was a super five years, I never thought people would treat me the way they treated me there, the way that I could be so happy there. So successful, so loved and sometimes things happen for a reason.”
Not that Cesc is one to dwell too much on the past, however.
His primary focus now is on helping Como achieve the lofty aims set out by club president Dennis Wise and the Mola group who own the club.
Fabregas himself is a part-investor in the club and has been influential off the pitch as well as on it in shaping the club’s future as they bid for promotion to Serie A for the first time since 2002/03.
“The experience since I arrived six or seven months ago has been fantastic,” he says.
“Obviously, the first thing you want to look at is how is the football going and obviously we didn’t start very well this year but we fixed it in a way. We are getting better and better, improving on the table and that gives security to the players, the staff and to the whole club to keep building what we’re building because it’s great to have a good structure outside the football but we’re here to play football and the moment results start going well, everything feels stronger and safer so yeah, it’s great.
“The training ground is slowly, slowly getting better and the stadium will hopefully start soon as well so it’s just the beginning.
“What I like the most about it is the process because it’s easy to come and say: ‘we want to be here in five or 10 years’ which you have to do to have a vision and a plan for the future but the process, the day to day, the little changes that you do everywhere around the club and you see and feel that it’s improving day by day. I think the journey and the process is what I enjoy the most.”
Wise convinced Fabregas to come and play a leading role in the club’s project after speaking directly with a player he respects highly and the impact has been clear.
There is no sense that a player who has won everything there is to win in terms of club trophies is here just to enjoy one last payday on the shores of Lake Como. After an injury-hit final season at Monaco that saw him sit out for 11 months, he’s raring to go in his new surroundings.
He speaks passionately about his role in helping act as a leader for younger players in the dressing room as he works towards his coaching badges and assists with off-the-pitch matters too, seeming just as hungry for success as he did when he was first breaking through into the Arsenal first-team at the other end of the scale in his career.
“I’ve always had a little coach inside of me,” he explains. “I’m very talkative on the pitch, outside the pitch when I see something wrong I think we can improve or something we are doing really well and I can emphasise that even more.
“I’ve always done that so since I was very, very young I’ve been captain and I think it’s a bit in me and maybe that’s why I have this passion of coaching.
“My main focus right now is on the football side. Obviously, if Mirwan [Suwarso, CEO of the Mola group behind Como] or Dennis, who are taking care of the club, have questions and they ask my opinion about something, which they do, I feel really happy to get involved with a certain level of detail that they want to go into and it’s very important.
“The most important is that we are a team, we know we need everybody around the club, and people are very very generous. Everyone is positive around the club, they want to do better and better and that’s what you need. You need to create a strong base, make a strong family I would say. I always like to talk about this because the stronger you are on this side of the game, it will be very, very important for the future.”
Eagle-eyed Arsenal fans were quick to notice that Fabregas was recently at London Colney alongside Jack Wilshere on the latter’s Instagram Story recently and it prompted plenty of discussion over the potential of a coaching role at the club for the Spaniard in years to come.
With Wilshere in charge of the U18s and Per Mertesacker, Edu and Mikel Arteta all in strong senior leadership positions at the club, a clear Arsenal DNA is running through the club with former professionals being welcomed back with open arms. Once a Gunner, always a Gunner etc.
“I am doing my coaching badges, my [UEFA] A-license, Jack welcomed me to be part of his team whenever I need it just to do the practical part with FA coaches and I am very, very thankful and grateful for his help and for this opportunity,” he reveals.
“I learned a lot. I think I can be part of something Arsenal are trying to build, even if it’s for a little period and to be able to see the fire in those boys’ eyes. The same that I used to have when I first joined the club.
“It was funny one day for example because we were doing a training session next to the first team and you could see that sometimes when we were just breaking up play or telling them to go and have a drink, they were all looking that direction at what the first-team players were doing and I remember just telling them: ‘it’s great that you look and it’s your dream to be there but you need first to work so hard in this part to be able to go to that side of the pitch’ so it was really funny and great to be part of it for a few days, for a few weeks.
Cesc Fàbregas back at London Colney again as seen on Jack Wilshere’s instagram. 📸 pic.twitter.com/7A7gQ7VeHX— Connor Humm (@TikiTakaConnor) March 6, 2023
“I am very grateful to Jack and Per for letting me be there with them. The good thing about Jack is he is very real, he’s very competitive, and he knows what it’s all about, even more than me because he obviously started at eight years old at the academy and some of these boys see a reflection of themselves through Jack, it’s really important.
“The main objective for all of these kids is to be first-team level or professional and you have to look at what the first team are doing for them to have some patterns and mental conditions when it’s needed to go straight to the first team.”
Fabregas will be watching on from his home in Switzerland on the shores of Lake Lugano when Wilshere’s U18s outfit go head-to-head with Manchester City on Tuesday night for a place in the FA Youth Cup final later this month.
It would be the Gunners’ first appearance in a final of that competition since 2009 when Wilshere himself was in the starting XI of their 6-2 aggregate win. Progress to the final would be a testament to the work being done by the club in a season where the first-team squad go in search of their own elusive silverware as they look to secure their first Premier League title since 2004.
Given he has been around Colney this season, Fabregas is as well qualified as anyone to comment on the mood and atmosphere that Mikel Arteta has helped create around the training ground as the Gunners go in search of their first league title in nearly 20 years.
“It’s all very, very positive,” he confirms. “People are happy around the place and that’s what you want. When you are unhappy or miserable to go into work, going to do what for me is the best job in the world, which is playing football and doing what you love and have the best facilities in the world with a great coach, great staff and great fans, at the end of the day, that’s all you need and want as a player to have all the tools to succeed.
“But yeah, the most important is the energy is very, very positive, a lot of young players that care about the club and that’s the way to continue growing.”
Fabregas has another mission to focus on now as he looks to try and guide Como into the Serie B play-offs for their shot at reaching the top flight once more in what remains of this season. Their recovery from a tricky start to 2022/23 has owed much to the calmness the Spaniard brings to the middle of their midfield.
A 2-0 win over promotion rivals Parma ahead of the international break has strengthened their case and Fabregas was instrumental in the 38 minutes he was on the pitch before injury forced him off. Even just shy of his 36th birthday, he remains a class act in midfield.
Most Arsenal fans will remember him as exactly that from his years of dominating Premier League midfields and being one of the best talents to emerge from the academy in the process.
His Gunners legacy deserves to be held in similar esteem too.
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Topics: Arsenal, Cesc Fabregas, Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, Arsene Wenger