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Nov 2, 2006

Fabregas comes of age

Having already played in a Champions League final, in the last 16 of the World Cup and having gained numerous 'Man of the Match' awards in one of the toughest leagues in the world, some may say that Cesc Fabregas has become a man. The truth is, the Spanish youngster has been playing above his tender years ever since his arrival at Highbury in 2003. Only his boyish looks and his birth certificate give away the fact that he is still just 19.

Plucked from the Barcelona B side, aged just 16, where he had already won the Best Player and Top Goalscorer awards at the FIFA U-17 World Championships, Arsene Wenger once again proved his credentials in unearthing young talent by snapping up the youngster for a mere £500,000.

Never afraid to throw the teenager in at the deep end, the Arsenal manager's faith has been vindicated as the Premiership has proved to be fertile soil for the young sapling, and we are now fortunate enough to witness his growth.

Fabregas' arrival in the Arsenal squad was initially filled with obstacles. The midfielder had impressed in the Arsenal reserves, making his debut against Rotherham in the League Cup, aged 16 and 177 days old (where he became the youngest player ever to represent Arsenal), but was considered too 'lightweight' to make it in the Premiership.

Edu, Patrick Vieira, Gilberto Silva and Ray Parlour were already well established in the centre of midfield and Fabregas was forced to wait until the 2004/05 season before getting his chance to make an impression on the first team.

But what an impression it was. Learning his trade alongside one of the best midfielders in the world at the time, Vieira, Fabregas quickly became the club's youngest goalscorer and the second youngest scorer in Champions League history in 2004, after netting the third goal against Rosenborg, in Arsenal's 5-1 victory.

Fabregas graduated up the midfield pecking order but it wasn't until the departure of the Vieira to Juventus that the starlet was able to grab the spotlight in the 2005/06 season. In part, it was due to the rise of the teenager that Wenger sanctioned the deal taking Arsenal's French captain to Turin and it was during the following campaign that he was able to show his full creative potential alongside the more defensive minded Gilberto Silva.

While having to deal with the pressure of replacing one of Arsenal's most iconic players, Fabregas was tasked with providing the attacking flair alongside the likes of Freddie Ljungberg and Robert Pires, while the Brazilian Gilberto took over the defensive duties for the team.

Fabregas' ability to thread eye-of-the-needle passes quickly gained him a reputation as an exceptional distributor of the ball, while his touch and technique were also praised in the media. He became a regular in the side and enhanced his reputation with an inspirational display against Real Madrid in the Champions League last season's.

Madrid's eye has never been far from young talent in Europe, and rumours had already been surfacing that the Spanish giants were keen to add Fabregas to their squad for a reported £20million.

Real president Ramon Calderon had boasted of securing the youngster's signature in his pre-election manifesto, but the Bernabeu had more bark than bite in the transfer window, and the signing never came.

In fact, Fabregas has now expressed his desire to repay Arsene Wenger for the faith he showed in him by signing the longest contract in football, until 2014. And it was refreshing to see a youngster so keen to avoid the wrangle of contract negotiations and concentrate on football.

'At the moment I'm just 19, I don't want to be thinking about money and contracts and stuff, I just want to be playing football,' he said.

One of the joys of watching players like Fabregas is that it all seems to come so easily. We never see the hours of preparation and hard work that it takes to be that good.

Already established as the heartbeat of a side that play the most exciting attacking football in Europe at the moment, Fabregas has been instrumental in wins over Manchester United, Reading and FC Porto already this season.

Enjoying such a meteoric rise in the game over the past 12 months, it is testament to his maturity that he's not let it go to his head. With the kind of talent that the Gunners have in their ranks, he must know that fame can go as quickly as is comes.

Arsenal also have another young Spaniard waiting in the wings to challenge Fabregas' midfield supremacy, another Barcelona youth product, Fran Merida. The 16-year-old has already established himself in the reserves and the skillful midfielder could have a big future in the game if he follows in the footsteps of his fellow countryman.

But in a world where young footballers earn a lot of money, very quickly, many youngsters have failed to make the grade at Arsenal - often falling foul of off-pitch distractions.

Most notably the 15-year-old Jermaine Pennant, who was the most expensive trainee in history (at a cool £2million), but was unable to curb his boisterous behaviour, even under Wenger's wing. Pennant certainly had the ability to succeed at Arsenal, but while his head may have been in the clouds, Fabregas remains more grounded.

'I wanted to pay back the club, especially Arsene Wenger for the support and faith he has shown in me,' he told the club's website.

The way he's playing at the moment, Arsenal will be grateful they have him tied down.


  • Any comments? Email Jon Carter