Vuvuzelas bellow into the night sky emulating the tropical buzz of the South African Savanna while the smiles of Spaniards are being etched permanently onto their faces, gazing round adoringly at eighty-five thousand strong in the ‘Soccer City’ in Johannesburg. A 23-year-old Cesc Fábregas smiles sheepishly as Carles Puyol drapes a Barcelona shirt over him. He knows Arsenal fans will be livid, but you know what? He doesn’t care, he’s just won a World Cup. A feat very few players will ever say they’ve been able to do.
It seemed set in stone, spliced into Barcelona’s very DNA that Fábregas would end up playing for them. He had all the traits. He was Spanish, he was nimble, he had an eye for a pass and most importantly he knew what it meant to play for the club having devoted 6 years of his life to them as a youth player. These are, of course, traits that have not deserted him in his veteran years but merely those that seem to take longer to unveil themselves with each passing month.
Fábregas still commands respect. He oozes a class fitting for the cosmopolitan playground he now calls home. A land where flashy suits and fast cars are currency. Where taxes are more mythological than Theseus. Where there aren’t enough hours in the day, hell, in the year to spend the kind of wealth that these bloated bourgeois carry around in their back pocket. Monaco is a footballer’s paradise.
In fairness to him, Fábregas has not treated his new home as a gold-plated retirement village. He seems every bit as determined to prove that he still has what it takes to play football at the highest level as he was when he was a young man breaking through. After all, when you have devoted your life to something, the pull of the Poker table can only satiate the hunger for so long.
Monaco recently scalped the current Ligue 1 royalty last November. PSG had the best attack, best defence, best points total (and best wage bill!) It’s long been established that their vice-like grip on the league is almost entirely unwavering, bested only once in recent times. Fittingly enough, by Leonardo Jardim’s Monaco in 2017/18. This time, Monaco would need a talisman for which to channel all of their hopeful energy through, up steps a man well graced in the shine of the spotlight.
Monaco found themselves severely wanting at half-time at 2-0 down to a Kylian Mbappé inspired brace. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Niko Kovac subbed Fábregas on at half time and his class dazzled through. Setting up Kevin Volland for his second and both winning and converting a late penalty. Fábregas flipped the game on its head and Monaco ran out 3-2 winners.
It’s no secret that Fábregas has been in decline, he will readily admit that himself. Arguably we have not seen him playing his finest football since Chelsea’s title win in 16/17. The old narrative; ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’ has never seemed to ring truer than through this performance. That statement seems to perfectly encapsulate a player like Fábregas.
We are living in the age of the industrial midfielder. Liverpool’s seemingly all-conquering team are made up of a midfield 3 whose chief priority is ball winning and retention. Somewhere along the line (possibly at the point Nabil Fekir’s move fell through), a member of the Liverpool hierarchy decided to run all the creativity through the fullbacks, in doing so birthing the new role of the fullback to be a primary creative hub. The midfielder is not so much a key to unlock a defence anymore, but a giant trebuchet to launch passes to the left and right back marauding up the field.
This leaves no room for a player like Fábregas. He’s a man trained in the art of the defensive unlock. I’m sure he would rather spend his millions on the French coast than surrender to becoming a ball-winning stalwart. So maybe through nostalgia or a longing to return to the days when the central midfielder could do it all, when we see a vintage performance like the one on Friday night, the collective footballing world enjoys a warm moment of reflection.
This isn’t to say that Fábregas’ role has remained entirely consistent throughout his career. Where once his name would be plastered all over the autobiography, he has now become a ghostwriter for the team as a whole. A player now content to let his brilliance be appreciated from the wings while the team takes centre stage.
In true 2020 fashion, Fábregas recently conducted a Lockdown interview with himself! He guided the audience through how his footballing mind works, the unique way he sees the game. A fascinating reflection on how both he and the game have changed over the last decade. All this while he nonchalantly munched on a bowl of peanuts!
The juxtaposition between the candid and the comic is a metaphor for Fábregas’ career. He enjoyed the spotlight, even thrived on it, but his ability to separate the tough from the trivial is what made him one of the finest players of his generation. Despite his natural charm and wit, in the moment when all humour was forgotten, Fábregas comes alive.
He was a player that came to prominence just before the social media revolution took effect. This was perhaps a blessing for him. Without wanting to play to the stereotypical, there have been instances of players getting too distracted with their online presence at the expense of their footballing ability.
Fábregas was blessed with enjoying his finest years without the harassment and vilification of ‘fans’ on Twitter pretending they have your best interests at heart. Not only this, but he would not have to worry about his football playing second fiddle to the distraction of TikTok and Instagram. Fábregas can now relax when he views his 10 million Twitter followers, safe in the knowledge that his finest years were not compromised by the pressure of maintaining that kind of colossal audience.
His very Twitter bio reflects how he has matured over the years. Despite all his footballing accolades, his international reputation and his social media stardom, the first line simply reads; ‘Proud dad of 5 beautiful children.’ A man content with his position in life. He doesn’t feel the need to cling onto his youth any longer but instead celebrate how far he has come.
He also uses his platform to discuss football with his fans. He recently gave his thoughts on Burnley vs Crystal Palace and invited his followers to discuss it with him. The freezing slopes of Lancashire are a far cry from the French Riviera but Fábregas’ love and his dissection of the game knows no geographical bias or elitist sneering. To me, he has all the hallmarks of a successful future coach. A rare understanding of all forms of the game. He is a player graced with technical ability from almost the entire midfield and his devotion to not just playing football but understanding it sets him apart from his contemporaries.
He may yet choose to trade the pitch for the touchline but for now, he has come a long way from the fresh-faced young man wearing that Barcelona shirt in July 2010. His career enjoyed many ups and his fair share of downs but at the end of all things, sat with his feet up in the south of France, I think he can say he’s done a pretty good job.
Article by @PitchesGeorge