‘When I was at Arse­nal I never thought I could feel this way about Chelsea’

➤ Cesc Fabre­gas be­came a hero to both sets of fans but feels it was the ruth­less­ness of the men in blue that gave them the edge over their ri­vals

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Football - By Matt Law FOOT­BALL NEWS COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Cesc Fabre­gas ad­mits that “in the­ory” a move to Chelsea was never sup­posed to hap­pen for a player who had grown up at Arse­nal, cap­tained the club and had only thought of re­turn­ing to England in north Lon­don be­fore Jose Mour­inho in­vited him for a meet­ing.

But Fabre­gas can now claim to love both clubs, to cher­ish the sup­port of fans from the red and blue sides of Lon­don, and to count mem­o­ries from the Emi­rates and Stam­ford Bridge as the best of his ca­reer.

The 33-year-old can also un­der­stand why some Arse­nal fans will never for­give him for play­ing for Chelsea and achiev­ing his dream of winning the Premier League ti­tle with the Gun­ners’ ri­vals – in­deed, he even re­spects them for it.

Fabre­gas, though, will never apol­o­gise for any of the choices he made over a ca­reer in England that was book-ended by two FA Cup vic­to­ries, the first with Arse­nal and the last with Chelsea, be­fore mov­ing to Monaco, from where he will watch to­mor­row’s fi­nal be­tween his old clubs.

“I always be­lieve that things hap­pen for a rea­son and in this case, in the­ory, it was not sup­posed to hap­pen, me join­ing Chelsea,” says Fabre­gas, who spent eight years at Arse­nal be­fore re­join­ing Barcelona, where he played for three years ahead of de­cid­ing he wanted to re­turn to the Premier League.

“When I told my agent I wanted to go back to the Premier League, I thought it was Arse­nal. In my eyes, in my heart and in my mind, I’m go­ing back to Arse­nal and that’s it. This is what I was think­ing and ex­pect­ing.

“But it didn’t hap­pen. Arse­nal had the op­tion but they didn’t take it, so we had to find other solutions and that’s when we met Jose. I lis­tened to Jose be­cause of who he is and be­cause of the re­spect I had for him, and I ended up lov­ing his words, his ideas, his fu­ture at Chelsea, what he wanted from me. In one sec­ond you change your mind, you make a big de­ci­sion in your ca­reer and it turns out to be a fan­tas­tic one. So never say never, that’s my les­son from all of it and I’m very happy I took the de­ci­sion.”

De­spite the fact he re­tains friend­ships with some of the Chelsea play­ers and staff he left be­hind last Jan­uary, while few of his old Arse­nal al­lies re­main, Fabre­gas can­not sin­gle out either club as his one true love. “My heart be­longs to both clubs,” he says. “I know it sounds po­lit­i­cally cor­rect, but it re­ally is what I feel. When I was with Arse­nal I never be­lieved I could feel what I felt to­wards Chelsea. It was im­pos­si­ble. But this is the beauty of foot­ball.”

That may not be enough for Arse­nal fans who could not stom­ach see­ing Fabre­gas in blue, but he ac­cepts the fact that he broke some hearts that will never be re­paired.

“Some­times it’s dif­fi­cult to change peo­ple’s opinion,” he says. “I did what I did and I gave my all. If some­one saw it, it’s great and if some­one didn’t, then it’s a shame and I feel bad be­cause first of all they be­lieve I could have done bet­ter.

“But maybe it’s not even about foot­ball, some­times it’s more about break­ing hearts be­cause of join­ing the other top club of the city. And fans are fans, and I com­pletely un­der­stand and I ad­mire that from them be­cause they are com­pletely loyal to their club from day one to the last.

“Even if I want to say I’m the big­gest Arse­nal fan, which I will always be for­ever, I can­not say I am com­pletely loyal from a fans’ per­spec­tive be­cause I went to Chelsea. It was my op­por­tu­nity as a player, as a pro­fes­sional. But when I took that chance, I never thought I would be so happy there, that I would be so suc­cess­ful and that I would have so much ap­pre­ci­a­tion and feel­ing with their fans. So now I sup­port both clubs equally.

“When I was at Arse­nal, I felt so com­pletely in love with that club. From the start, when I was train­ing and made my de­but with the ‘In­vin­ci­bles’.

“There was some­thing in­side of me that was im­pos­si­ble to ever go away be­cause I prob­a­bly had the best years of my life there. But be­ing at Chelsea is some­thing that I will never re­gret in my life, in fact com­pletely the op­po­site. I will always talk about Chelsea and about my time at Chelsea as prob­a­bly the best de­ci­sion of my ca­reer.”

Fabre­gas was aged 18 when he played in his first FA Cup fi­nal against Manch­ester United, in 2005, which Arse­nal won on penal­ties. The teenager not only won his first piece of sil­ver­ware, but also left a last­ing im­pres­sion on Roy Keane.

“Ger­ard Pique, who was at Manch­ester United then, told me about this af­ter­wards and I never knew about it. He told me that me and Roy went into a chal­lenge, which I re­mem­ber. It was 50/50 and I must have caught him with my knee in his quad. And I got him a lit­tle bit. At half-time, he went to Pique and started shout­ing at him be­cause he knew we were friends. A bit of swear­ing. I can’t say the ex­act words, but it was fun.”

Fabre­gas thought that would be the first of many tro­phies he would lift at Arse­nal, yet the FA

Cup proved to be the first and last piece of sil­ver­ware he won at a club who be­came syn­ony­mous with fail­ing to get over the line.

“In the first three or four years I thought I was in the place to win ev­ery­thing,” the Spa­niard says. “We played the FA Cup and went on to play in the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal. So, in my mind, I was think­ing we would com­pete against any­one, es­pe­cially in England. By the looks of it as well in Europe.

“Prob­a­bly af­ter 2008 when ev­ery­body left, the club de­cided to go with younger prospects, giv­ing chances to a very young team. It needed a lit­tle bit more time and there were a lot of in­juries in key mo­ments of the sea­son and a lot of things hap­pened, so we never hit the heights we wanted.”

Hav­ing spent eight years try­ing to win the Premier League with Arse­nal, Fabre­gas lifted the tro­phy af­ter just 12 months at Chelsea un­der Mour­inho and went on to col­lect a sec­ond win­ners’ medal un­der An­to­nio Conte, whose apol­ogy to him he still rates as one of the most sat­is­fy­ing mo­ments of his ca­reer.

“With Conte, I felt that he didn’t re­ally know me,” Fabre­gas says. “At the start, he

said to me that he wanted two strong mid­field­ers, that he didn’t think I would have space or the right qual­i­ties in his team and that’s it.

“I just had to be pa­tient and prove him wrong. I think, for­get­ting tro­phies and per­for­mances, it’s prob­a­bly the proud­est mo­ment of my ca­reer when he called me to his of­fice one day and he told me, ‘Cesc, I’m sorry. You were right’. Be­cause in our first dis­cus­sion I told him some­thing back, I was not ar­ro­gant, but I told some­thing. He looked at me then like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, talk like you want, you won’t play’. So af­ter that, prov­ing him wrong, him com­ing to me and telling me I have a place in this team and that I’ve been do­ing very, very well, that was very sat­is­fy­ing and in the sec­ond sea­son I ba­si­cally played ev­ery sin­gle game.” It was at the end of his sec­ond sea­son un­der Conte that Fabre­gas won the last of his tro­phies in England, an­other FA Cup fi­nal vic­tory over Manch­ester United a year af­ter los­ing in the fi­nal to Arse­nal.

Asked to try to ex­plain the dif­fer­ence in cul­tures at the two clubs and why he fin­ished his Chelsea ca­reer with three more tro­phies than he man­aged at Arse­nal, Fabre­gas says: “Some teams I played in at Arse­nal and Chelsea were sim­i­lar in terms of tal­ent, but the dif­fer­ence I felt straight­away is that at Chelsea we were ruth­less.

“At Arse­nal there were fan­tas­tic, top, top play­ers, but at Chelsea we didn’t re­ally care if one day we had to win 1-0 by not touch­ing the ball for the whole match.

“At Arse­nal, and it was maybe partly my fault at some point as the leader and cap­tain. some­times we for­got that to win leagues and Cham­pi­ons Leagues, you need to win ugly. When I was young I always wanted to play the beau­ti­ful game, but there are always five or six games a sea­son that you need to strug­gle but win. At Chelsea we did that. We were very com­pet­i­tive and very ex­pe­ri­enced. That’s the main dif­fer­ence.”

Fabre­gas makes Chelsea favourites for to­mor­row’s fi­nal, but claims the game car­ries more sig­nif­i­cance for Arse­nal and their head coach Mikel Arteta.

“Arse­nal need it more,” he says. “Chelsea ba­si­cally ev­ery year has won a tro­phy, so it’s a dif­fer­ent an­i­mal in this case. In terms of tro­phies, Arse­nal needs it more and for con­fi­dence for next year and get­ting into Europe. Chelsea are in the Cham­pi­ons League and Arse­nal has noth­ing at the mo­ment.”

Di­vided loy­al­ties: Cesc Fabre­gas says he loved his time with both Lon­don clubs but won the ma­jor­ity of his English sil­ver­ware dur­ing his time at Stam­ford Bridge

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.