I’ll never forget my eleventh birthday. I didn’t get into football until I was a little older than most kids, who usually find their love for the sport at a younger age. My mother sat me down and I unwrapped a yellow Arsenal 2007 away kit (pictured), with my favourite player on the back: Cesc Fabregas.
Why was he my favourite? Quite simply, he wasn’t the biggest player on the pitch and he wasn’t the most athletic, but he was simple in the most complimentary of ways. That’s all I knew at the age of 11, an age where kids dream and think, “I want to be him.”
Fabregas was, and still is, a beautiful footballer. He had a gift that is yet to be fully inherited by English players. Like no one I’d ever seen, he had the ability to dictate the tempo of a match. He didn’t do this by running the fastest and putting in crunching tackles. He delivered world-class performances that didn’t require having all those glorified attributes.
Fabregas had this ability to collect the ball in any area of the pitch, no matter how many players were around him, find a player in any position and do all this without ever looking down at the ball. It was instinctive and natural – it flowed seamlessly. Fabregas would go on to become, under Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte, the nucleus of the team, the epicentre, the heart from which everything else stemmed.
What always inspired me the most about Fabregas was how much I related to him. He was never the fastest, nor the strongest and he didn’t particularly enjoy a tackle. However he was elegant, classy, neat on the ball and he used his talent so well that he didn’t need the rest to succeed. He made do without.
Now I would never say I was elegant or classy, but the point is I aspired to be. Because in an era where young English footballers had to be strong, big and powerful, Fabregas proved you didn’t have to be.
He is the type of footballer that young kids want to grow up to be like now, and with that we are seeing a natural shift in the culture of the English game. Suddenly, we aspire to play quick passes, retain possession and breakdown the opposition. Following Fabregas, David Silva, Juan Mata and Christian Eriksen arrived, only proving the point that a midfielder didn’t have to be the ever-running, crunch-tackling machines they once were.
Five hundred words isn’t enough to herald this great player, who merited every one of his titles he won. Despite also playing for Chelsea, I will always be grateful to Fabregas for showing me that there was another way to succeed on the pitch, and inspiring not just me, but a new footballing culture in England, that is starting to alter the nations’ natural approach to the game like never before.
Thanks for the memories, Cesc!