Cesc Fabregas: In the Shadow of Equals

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Cesc Fabregas: In the Shadow of Equals

He was awarded the Arsenal captaincy at just 21 years old, becoming the storied North London club’s youngest ever skipper. He’s won an FA Cup, a La Liga title, two European championships and one World Cup and he’s just 27 years old. Cesc Fabregas, the boy from tiny Arenys de Mar on Spain’s Catalonian coast, is one of the most decorated young players of his generation, so why isn’t he a global household name?

The answer may be that Fabregas has never had the chance to be the star. Playing at Arsenal in the shadows of club legends Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira, and later Robin van Persie, before moving to a Barcelona side in 2011 that was classified by pundits as one of the greatest ever, the young central midfielder’s contributions to his teams’ successes hasn’t always been quantifiable on a post-game stats sheet.

He is an exquisite passer of the ball with superb vision and the calm demeanor that signals maturity beyond his years. What he lacks in pace, he makes up for in superior technique. Raised in Barcelona’s famed La Masia youth academy, his technique is second to none.

Early in his Arsenal career, his deft touch and effortless distribution in central midfield provided boundless chances for attackers Henry and van Persie. In fact, Fabregas created more chances in his 303 appearances at Arsenal from than any other player in Europe’s top five divisions (England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Germany’s Bundesliga ,Italy’s Serie A and France’s Ligue 1) in the same period. With an estimated 466 chances, he surpassed his future Barcelona teammate Xavi, Chelsea’s Frank Lampard and Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard. A quintessential team player, he created the chances for others to claim the glory. Need evidence? Watch Andres Iniesta’s World Cup 2010-winning goal for Spain one more time, and see which player sets him up for the finish with a simple, crisp, clean pass:

Cesc’s £35 million transfer to Barcelona in 2011 ended one of the longest transfer sagas in Premier League history but, despite the hefty price tag, the young midfielder did not play a central role in either Pep Guardiola or, later, Tito Vilanova’s squads, which were built around Xavi and Iniesta in central midfield. Cesc made just 60 league appearances in an attacking role in his first two seasons but still managed 29 goals and 32 assists, making for an impressive 0.48 goals and 0.53 assists per game. Under Tata Martino this past season, Cesc played a bigger part in the team but his accomplishments were largely overshadowed by the team’s failure to win any trophies for the first time since 2003.

Playing for La Roja, Cesc has been part of the greatest generation in Spain’s long football history. Again playing second option to team veterans Xavi and Iniesta, who anchor Coach Vicente del Bosque’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, Fabregas has made 87 appearances for Spain but never has been a consistent starter. With Xavi having noticeably lost some pace in recent years, it appears del Bosque is willing to take a chance on Fabregas in an attacking midfield role, playing just above the Barcelona maestro.

If given the chance to start at this summer’s world cup in Brazil, Fabregas could finally step out of the shadows and become the star he’s always been. Such would be fitting for a player who has had the cruel luck of playing with the most gifted players in global football for more than a decade. Come mid-July, the world may now see Fabregas in the same company.