The 2005 season began with Cesc playing for Spain in the FIFA World Youth Championships in the Netherlands. Spain was unfortunately knocked out by Argentina in the quarter finals.
During the summer transfer window Patrick Vieira departed for Juventus, and the season saw Cesc playing regularly in the Arsenal central midfield alongside Gilberto Silva. He made 49 appearances in all competitions. Despite his young age, his performances attracted greater attention now that he was a first team regular.
As Cesc was smaller in stature and played with less aggression than Vieira, there were initially some doubts over his ability to replace Vieira in the centre of midfield. However, Cesc soon silenced his doubters.
In February Cesc returned to Spain to play against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu. In the grandest occasion of his career so far, the youngest player on the pitch conducted the game with the perception of an old master.
As he trotted off when he was substituted in the dying seconds, a spontaneous ovation cascaded around the Bernabeu’s four sides. What an accolade. In his first match as a professional footballer in his homeland he had earned the instant respect of his compatriots. The next day’s newspapers were effusive.
‘Credit to the scouts who spirited Cesc away to English football. It ended up being humiliating to watch Gravesen struggling to control the midfield for Madrid, while Fabregas was doing it for Arsenal,’ commented AS Diario.
‘While the galacticos made complete fools of themselves, the whole of European football is in awe of Cesc,’ wrote Sport, a Catalan paper that enjoyed sticking an extra needle in their rival’s backside.
His accelerated experience at Arsenal made Cesc a contender for a place in Spain’s World Cup squad. His first call up for the Spanish National Team came when he was still just 18 and he was selected to play in a friendly against Ivory Coast. It was a reward for his excellence at the Bernabeu. He made his debut on March 1, 2006 and wore the number 8 shirt.
Playing at Real was an essential rite of passage for this determined and intelligent young man. ‘I really wanted to show people that I could play here,’ he said. ‘I hope I’ll be able to go to the World Cup. And the Champions League final.’
Cesc was to realize both of those ambitions.
The match against Real Madrid was soon followed by another virtuoso performance from Cesc in the first leg of the Champions League quarter final. Billed as “the master versus the apprentice”, Vieira’s first return to Highbury with Juventus, his new club, provided an opportunity for Cesc to show that Arsenal had a new midfield general. A few minutes into the Champions League match, Cesc caught Vieira with a scything tackle in midfield, a clear statement of intent.
“The truth is that someone, I won’t say who, told me to go in hard and show Vieira that I was not going to be intimidated by him,” he says. “He was and remains one of my heroes, but, on the pitch, it was going to be all business. The tackle may have had that effect, but I can honestly say I would have done it anyway; it could have been Emerson, instead of Vieira, on the receiving end. The fact is that we were caught out by their counter-attack and they needed to be stopped.â€
A superb performance from Cesc saw him score Arsenal’s first goal in the 38th minute and then set up Thierry Henry for the second in the 69th as Arsenal won 2-0.
After the match Thierry Henry said of Cesc, “He is amazing. You donâ€™t have a lot of players like that at his age. You have Wayne Rooney, you have Patrick Vieira when he was young and some other people like Ronaldinho when they were young. But there have not been a lot of people like that. I hope for him he is going to have the same career.â€
He added, “Iâ€™ve always had faith in Cesc, but at the beginning of the season he wasnâ€™t playing that well and people were having a go at him. Thatâ€™s the way it is. Suddenly you play well and people say he is a genius.”
â€œIf in a yearâ€™s time he doesnâ€™t play well people will say â€˜what happened?â€™ He is going to have to cope with that now, although heâ€™s already shown he can.â€
â€œYou have some players who if you have a go at them they have a strop, but Cesc can handle it. I said to so many people when I talk about Cesc, he is old in his head already. You can see it from the way he plays.”
Cesc went on to play in the Champions League Final against his former club Barcelona. Jens Lehmann was sent off in the 18th minute for bringing down Samuel E’too in the area. Arsenal, down to 10 men fought bravely and took the lead with a goal from Sol Campbell in the 37th minute. However, with the numbers stacked against them, the courageous Arsenal side could not hang on and conceded two goals in the last 15 minutes, to be defeated 2-1. Match report.
Cesc had said on more than one occasion that it was his dream match – Arsenal v Barcelona for the Champions League but there was no fairy-tale ending to the season. In May 2008, Cesc said in an interview that he has still never watched the match but that is the final that he thinks about the least. He added, “I don’t know why. I think maybe because it was the one that we played better and the one we showed more desire. We were all devastated after that Final but I must say after that game we realised that Arsenal was a big club and we could compete against anyone. We were playing the final against Barcelona with one player less in the first five or 10 minutes they didn’t come back until the last 10 minutes. So it was really impressive and we were devastated but at the same time we felt proud for the fans and for ourselves because what we did was quite amazing.”
At the end of the season he was named in the 2006 UEFA Team of the year. He also won the prestigious Bravo award (the youth equivalent of the Ballon D’or) for the best European football player under the age of 21.
Continue reading Cesc Fabregas bio part 5 >>