Welcome to Last Word on Football’s ‘Returning Players’ Series. In this edition, we take a look at Cesc Fabregas.
Born in Barcelona, Fabregas came through the famous La Masia academy but left to join Arsenal’s youth setup at the age of just 16.
The Spaniard enjoyed nine years in North London but made a return to Barcelona in 2011, where he would spend three seasons before returning to England.
Returning Players – Cesc Fabregas
First Spell at Barcelona
A Barcelona fan from a young age, Cesc Fabregas joined the club aged ten in 1997. He was in esteemed company, too, playing alongside the likes of Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique.
Despite his potential as a youngster, Fabregas failed to break into the senior set up. As a result, the midfielder joined the academy at Arsenal aged just 16-years-old.
Teams That Cesc Fabregas Played for in Between
Fabregas has a successful time in North London. Despite only joining Arsenal in September 2003, he made his debut the following month in a League Cup tie against Rotherham United. As a result, the midfielder became the club’s youngest ever first-team player, aged 16 years and 177 days. Later in the competition, he became the club’s youngest goalscorer, netting in a 5-1 victory over Wolves.
Arsenal won the Premier League in Fabregas’ first season at the club but he failed to make a league appearance during the campaign and missed out on a winners medal.
From the following season, Fabregas became involved in the first team more regularly. Having made just three League Cup appearances in 2003/04, he turned out a total of 46 times in his second campaign. Having scored in a 3-0 win over Blackburn Rovers, he became the club’s youngest league goalscorer. He ended the season with an FA Cup win.
After Patrick Vieira left to join Juventus, the youngster was handed the number four shirt. He turned out a further 49 times in all competitions and filled the void left by Vieira despite his young age. Fabregas and Arsenal ended the season with a Champions League final but lost out to his former club, Barcelona.
Despite failing to secure any further trophies during his time in North London, Fabregas had become a fixture in Arsene Wenger’s team. Another cup final defeat, this time the League Cup against Chelsea, didn’t take the gloss off his personal achievements, which included the Golden Boy award, being named in the 2006 UEFA Team of the Year and nominations for both PFA Players’ Player of the Year and PFA Young Player of the Year.
In November 2008, Fabregas was made captain of Arsenal. The Gunners reached the Champions League semi-final but were knocked out by Manchester United and ended the season fourth in the Premier League.
The 2009/10 was another slow burner for the Gunners, but Fabregas ended the campaign as the club’s top scorer with 15 in the league and 19 in all competitions.
At the start of the 2010/11 campaign, Barcelona offered €35 million for the midfielder, but Arsenal rejected the bid. It was a disappointing final season at the club as the Gunners finished four and lost out in the League Cup final with defeat against Birmingham City.
He ended his Arsenal career with 57 goals and 92 assists from 304 appearances. During his time in North London, Fabregas also won the European Championships and the 2010 World Cup with Spain, before securing another European Championship in 2012.
Return to Barcelona
The following season, Fabregas returned to Spain in a deal worth an initial €29 million with €5 in add-ons.
Barcelona were dominating at the time, having won three successive La Liga titles and two Champions League victories in three years. His Barca debut came as the club secured another trophy with victory in the Supercopa de España over Real Madrid. His first goal came in a 2-0 win over Porto in the UEFA Super Cup, and he also scored in a 4-0 win over Santos as Barca secured the FIFA Club World Cup.
Fabregas scored two goals against Osasuna and one against Valencia in Barca’s Copa del Rey campaign, which ended with victory over Athletic Club, but the club lost out to Chelsea in the semi-finals of the Champions League. He scored 15 times and added 20 assists from 48 appearances in his first season at the Nou Camp.
The following season, Fabregas netted his first-ever hat trick in a 5-0 win over Mallorca. The midfielder ended the campaign with his maiden league title as Barca secured the title with a record 100 points. Despite defeat at the semi-final stage of both the Copa del Rey and Champions League, Fabregas had 26 goal contributions from 48 matches.
2013/14 was his final season back home. Barcelona began the campaign with victory in the Supercopa de España before Fabregas added five assists in a 7-0 win over Levante. He ended the season with 13 goals from 55 appearances as Barcelona failed in La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League.
At the end of the season, Fabregas asked to leave his boyhood club and returned to England after signing for Chelsea. He ended his Barcelona career with 42 goals and 50 assists from 151 appearances while adding a further six trophies to the two he won at Arsenal.
He continued that success at Chelsea, winning two Premier League titles, one FA Cup, one League Cup and one Europa League title.