It’s not often a player’s greatness is forgotten while they’re still playing in one of Europe’s top five leagues, but that seems to be what has happened to Cesc Fabregas.
The former Premier League, La Liga, European Championship and World Cup winner has got one of the greatest resumes in football, and yet is so often left out of the conversation when it comes to discussing who the best of his generation are.
When it comes to box-to-box midfielders or just outright playmakers, there aren’t many better than the former Arsenal, Chelsea and Barcelona man.
After signing for Arsenal from the Barcelona academy as a teenager, Fabregas broke into the first-team at the tender age of just 16. He made his debut in the League Cup during the ‘Invincibles’ and scored in a later round in the tournament to become the club’s youngest ever player and goalscorer.
He wasn’t given a league winners medal that season, but in his second year in England as a 17-year-old he established himself as a senior first-team player and an established member of the squad.
He made 46 appearances in all competitions, including 33 games in the Premier League. He became the club’s youngest ever goalscorer in a league game and was praised for performances where he was filling in for the injured Patrick Vieira. His performances were enough to earn him a regular place in the side by the end of the season, rotating in and out and he even started the FA Cup final win over Manchester United to earn the first trophy of his career.
His importance only grew along with his reputation, and when Vieira left the club for Juventus Arsene Wenger placed his trust in the young Spaniard. In the first season of him being the first-choice central midfielder, Fabregas took on the famous number 4 shirt at the club and inserted his own style of play on the team.
As a less physical and imposing player than Vieira, Fabregas used intricate passing and incredible technique to dictate the tempo in midfield alongside Gilberto Silva which greatly impressed many especially in Europe.
Fabregas scored and assisted as Arsenal defeated Juventus and Real Madrid in the Champions League knockout stages en route to reaching the final, where they were beaten by Barcelona thanks to two late goals. His importance, if not already clear, was evident when Jens Lehmann was sent off early on and Wenger decided to take off the experienced Robert Pires instead of the 18-year-old diminutive Spaniard.
Fabregas would go on to become the captain and talisman of the club during his time at the Emirates before a long, drawn out transfer saga with his boyhood club Barcelona saw a move take place in the summer of 2011.
Barça paid £30million while Fabregas agreed to pay Arsenal just under £1m-a-year from his wages to help fund the deal such was his desperation to return.
He came at the end of Pep Guardiola’s run of dominance, but was only used as a bit-part player for the most part. When playing in a central midfield role he didn’t provide the quality that Guardiola was used to from Xavi and Andres Iniesta, which led to Guardiola often using him in one of the more advanced positions as a false 9.
His relationship with Lionel Messi was breathtaking though, as the two La Masia graduates were seemingly always on the same wavelength. Fabregas’ preference for playing the killer ball in behind or through the lines as opposed to Xavi and Iniesta’s way of breaking a team down seemed to suit the Argentine to a tee as he enjoyed the two best goalscoring seasons of his career playing with Fabregas.
When Barcelona brought in Neymar under Gerardo Martino, Fabregas played more times than in any other season at the Camp Nou. Despite all the game time, and finishing the season with 13 goals and 17 assists the Spaniard was unhappy.
He sought a move back to Arsenal but when the club turned down the chance to re-sign him, he ended up signing for Jose Mourinho and Chelsea after asking Barcelona to let him go.
At Stamford Bridge he was used as a more deep-lying playmaker and formed a sensational partnership with striker Diego Costa as he registered 24 assists in all competitions. That season Chelsea won the double as Fabregas won his first Premier League title and League Cup.
At 27-years-old, Fabregas’ body was starting to slow down. He struggled in the next season as Mourinho was sacked and then wasn’t high energy enough for Antonio Conte’s midfield in the 3-4-3 system he deployed. That didn’t stop him securing 15 assists in all competitions that season as Chelsea won the title again, with Fabregas often called upon to unlock tight games from the bench.
His career has dwindled since then, but let it not be forgotten just how good he was.
Fabregas was a key member of the Spain team who pulled off an unprecedented three-peat of international tournaments, winning Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. It was he who played the killer pass in to Iniesta for the World Cup winning goal, something that will forever go down in his nation’s history.
His tremendous vision, expert passing, wonderful technique and determination despite his diminutive frame made him one of the best central midfielders the Premier League has ever seen. To this day he remains one of just four players to have over 100 assists in the Premier League, but when you break it down his numbers are astonishing.
Ryan Giggs sits top of that chart with 162 assists in 632 games. Frank Lampard is fourth with 102 assists in 609 appearances and Wayne Rooney is third with 103 in 491 appearances. Then you have Fabregas, who sits second with 111 in only 350 appearances in England’s top flight.
The only thing missing from his honours list is a Champions League trophy but that shouldn’t take away from just how good this guy was. For my money, the greatest playmaker the Premier League has ever seen.
His career at the top level started early so also finished early, but Fabregas is a player who should remembered for generations to come.