In the summer of 2003, Cesc starred at the FIFA U-17 World Championship in Finland. He won both the Golden Ball for best player and Golden Boot for top scorer. Spain finished second in the tournament. Cesc scored a brace, including a golden goal in the 117th minute, in the semi-final against Argentina, to take Spain into the final, where they dominated for long periods but in spite of this, Brazil ran out winners 1 – 0.
The team coach Juan Santisteban said at the end of the tournament, “In Cesc we have discovered a great talent for Spain”. This precocious talent was to lead to his involvement with Spainâ€™s U-21 squad at just 17. Talent scouts at the tournament showed a lot of interest in the top scorer and player of the tournament but to no avail as Cesc was already bound for Highbury.
Cesc moved to England on his own at 16 years of age and went straight into digs with Philippe Senderos and the only necessity was that, before bringing him over, Arsenal waited until he finished the school semester.
The first time Cesc set foot in Highbury, in September 2003, he watched his new club get blown away by Inter Milan. As he watched the horror show unfold – Arsenal were 3-0 down by half-time – what thoughts ran through his mind? Was there at least a silver lining in the fact that Arsenal’s much-vaunted World Cup-winning midfield pairing – Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva – were so thoroughly outplayed that Fabregas, despite his 16 years of age, believed he might get a shot at the first team sooner rather than later?
Not at all. “I certainly wasn’t thinking about it,” he says. “I knew they were great players, but I also never really thought of the first team at that point. I mean, I was there to play for the youth team, I never imagined I would have to worry about the first team’s midfield, let alone those two. I was 16 years old… normally players get a chance when they turn 22 or thereabouts. I thought it would be the same for me. I certainly did not imagine that, in less than a year, I’d be playing regularly alongside them.”
Of course, when it comes to developing youth players and launching them in the first team Arsenal embrace a different philosophy to many clubs. Yet off the pitch Cesc’s first year was no different from that of any 16 year-old who lands at a top premiership side with a duffel bag, a pair of boots and a heart full of hope.
Cesc lived in a bedsit in Barnet, Hertfordshire, run by Noreen Davis, a woman who looks after young players on behalf of the club. It was comfortable, but spartan, miles away from the “Footballers’ Pads” image.
“I had a stereo, some clothes, a computer, a tiny television which was hooked up to my PlayStation. In fact, it was so small I think I nearly went blind playing on it,” he says. “Philippe Senderos was there, too, though he had a much bigger room.”
At first, as with most things, everything seemed shiny, exciting and new. By the time winter set in, however, things began to change somewhat. “After four to six months it became tough,” he says. “Every day, the same routine, the same things. When I wasn’t training or going to my English lessons, I’d spend all day in my room, staring at the computer, not knowing what to do with myself. It was incredibly boring. And weekends were no better. The reserves played during the week, so on Saturday and Sunday, because I had no friends, I would just sit there.”
Little by little, he found things to do, usually with Senderos in tow. The shops of Barnet High Street – Block-buster in particular – became a welcome distraction. And occasionally, they would hop on the Tube into town, making a beeline for Niketown and Selfridges on Oxford Street. Standard teenage fare, albeit a world away from his friends back in Barcelona.
“I’d think about my friends back home, who were out clubbing and having a good time and there I was, all by myself, in front of the computer, wondering what the hell I was doing,” he says. “It was tough, but it was a choice I had made.”
First Training session
It was October 2003 and he was 16, scrawnier and with his teenage mullet haircut accentuating his youthfulness. Wenger, wondering if the lad could possibly be as good as the scouting reports suggested, pitched him straight in with the first team. “I never trained with the first team at Barcelona but I’ve spoken to (Lionel) Messi (Barca’s 17-year-old Argentine prodigy) and he trains with them. He says if you do something wrong, everyone says, ‘He’s young, it’s okay’. It’s not like that here,” Fabregas says. “Here you’re treated like all the other players. In my first session Kolo Toure kicked me. It was a terrible tackle. He knew I was 16 but it was, bang! Welcome to England. He didn’t say sorry and nobody said a word, so I had to get up and play. I knew from that moment it was going to be very difficult and I’d have to work hard.”
Of course Toure’s tackle might have been partly due to some ill advice Cesc had received. A nervous Cesc, was told by his agent ahead of practice “when you get there, ask for the ball all the time. Let them know you are there to stay.” Cesc, who had learned english at school, realized upon arriving in London aged 16, that none of it had stuck in his mind. His agent said, “You say ‘YES, YES, YES’ then they will see you and give you the ball”. Cesc recalls, “As soon as they began to play a training match, I began screaming like a madman, YES, YES, YES, every throw in, every kick, every second of the session I was screaming. Arsene [Wenger] kept looking at me thinking, ‘did I just buy a crazy Spaniard?’
First team debut
On October 28, Cesc, wearing the number 57, played his first game for Arsenal, in a League Cup match against Rotherham United at Highbury. He was just 16 years and 177 days old making him Arsenal’s youngest ever first team player.
Arsenal won the match 9-8 on penalties, after drawing 1-1 at the end of extra time. Cesc was substituted in the 85th minute and was not amongst the penalty takers. You can read the match report here.
He was one of four ‘debutantes’ on the night. Gael Clichy was also making his first bow in front of the 27,451 crowd.
Five weeks later on December 3rd, a chilly night in North London, Cesc made his second start for the first team and the Fabregas family got the first clear sign that they had made the right decision .
Arsenal were playing Wolves in the Fourth Round of the Carling Cup, and their little maestro clipped in a goal that etched his name into the annals.
In this game Cesc Fabregas became the club’s youngest ever goal scorer at 16 years 212 days. Up in the East Stand his mother leapt up and down like there was no tomorrow.
The family were sure it would have been years before he was granted an equivalent opportunity at Camp Nou. As Cesc said, â€œArsenal came for me, but at Barcelona I was just one of many.â€
Cesc had an excellent game. He was one of the stars of the night. His passing was accurate and penetrative and he found himself in space on several occasions. An article in the Arsenal magazine mentioned that he had been working on the defensive side of his game, and this certainly showed as he put in a few crunching tackles. He managed to hold his own against tough and experienced opposition and deserved his goal at the end, when Wiltord rolled the ball square and Cesc was there to tap the ball into the gaping net from less than a yard out.
The final score was Arsenal 5 – 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers. View the match report.
After the match Cesc went home and celebrated his first goal by drinking a Coca-Cola and eating a Kinder Egg.
Cesc made a third appearance in the Carling cup that season, as a substitute at the Hawthorns in a match against West Bromwich Albion on December 12. Arsenal won 2-0
He played out the rest of the season in the reserves and continued to devour the intensive three-times-weekly English lessons the club arranged for him when he arrived from Barcelona and in time began learning french as well.
Continue reading Cesc Fabregas bio part 3 >>