It’s funny how a player moving clubs can offend your sensibilities.
This weekend, two excellent footballers face their former clubs, each on the opposing team to the one where they made their name, and will cause fans of both sides to pause for thought. I’m talking of course about Cesc Fabregas and Petr Cech.
They’ve already faced very contrasting reactions from the opposing fans at the first London derby between the two sides, with Cech being well received at Stamford Bridge while Fabregas was treated to a very mixed reception even amongst the Arsenal fans.
In some ways it demonstrates the fickleness of the modern fan and the double standards that we often apply, but in other ways it can be taken as a lesson in how to comport yourself.
Manner of departure
When Fabregas left Arsenal, it was to warm the bench at the much despised Barcelona, and it was the player’s own volition to make the move. It has never sat right with sections of our fan base that he tried so hard to engineer the move, and while we’ll never know what he was promised behind the scenes, it was apparent to all that Fabregas and his cronies were making it all but impossible for the club to resist.
In the end, he moved for well below his market value as a result of those machinations, just as he was entering his peak years.
In stark contrast, ‘Big Pete’ stayed at Chelsea as long as they would have him, and only made his exit when they made it clear he would no longer be first choice. Everything was done quietly behind the scenes, and the Blues received a fairly sizable (albeit not exorbitant) fee for a player likely to only have a few more years at the top.
Added to that, Cech spent his last season at Chelsea largely warming the bench, as they won the league with the younger Courtois primarily between the sticks. They sold the Czech stopper knowing they had not only a ready made replacement, but one they had already tried and tested, and determined to be better. The team was on the crest of a wave, and he was deemed surplus to requirements.
When Fabregas left Arsenal, it was like deja vu. Where Cesc himself had been thrown into action in 2005 when Vieira left the club as a young, inexperienced and relatively unknown quantity, so Jack Wilshere was thrust forward to replace Fabregas. It was less a reflection on the young Englishman than the overwhelming feeling that we were taking a backwards step before we could take two forwards again. Back to square one, you might say.
Of course, just as Cech, the world class keeper, was made at Chelsea, so Fabregas, the world class midfielder, was made at Arsenal. The key difference though lies in that Petr stayed with the Blues for 10 years and helped them to a number of trophies, where Fabregas bailed out just as the Arsenal side had reached a point where it could start to seriously compete again.
In short, Cech put Chelsea on the European map by taking them from upstart moneybags to winners, while Fabregas’ defection to Barcelona cast a shadow on Arsenal’s own European reputation, relegating us to being a second tier club.
In some ways, you would expect Chelsea fans to be more upset since Cech moved directly across London, while Fabregas went around the houses and was actually rejected by Arsenal before landing at Stamford Bridge.
In some ways Chelsea’s rejection of Cech balances with the fact that we could have had Cesc back, but declined. Both players could actually be playing for the opposing side come Sunday, had the managers of those respective clubs wanted them.
Colder than a bag of frozen peas
As it is, Fabregas will undoubtedly (and deservedly) receive a frostier welcome than Cech, for the most part because of his own misbehaviour in the summer of 2010/11 rather than because he now plays for Chelsea.
It’s notable that in his years away from London he picked up some rather shocking habits (falling over with little or no contact for example) but that’s hardly a surprise given that he was learning from the best over in Barca.
He’s also a rather slimy individual, where Cech carries that quiet dignity which marks many of the very best. At no stage has he bad mouthed Chelsea, but nor has he proclaimed everlasting love for them. His comments have been considered and fair, identifying his reasons for leaving and making it clear that his new focus is on Arsenal.
Fabregas meanwhile can’t help but make eyes at everyone and anyone in his desperation to be liked. Ironic then that he will likely receive such a mixed reaction on Sunday.
Playing for the badge
Still, neither man quite generates the same level of antipathy as Ashley Cole though. Not enough money involved perhaps, or maybe there’s just something different about an Englishman, born and bred supporting a team, defecting from the best team in the country to an upstart one?
Either way, although I’m not impressed by Fabregas’ behaviour, I probably won’t find it in my heart to either boo or clap him – I’m a little ambivalent towards him now, and maybe that’s an even bigger insult really. There are so many players in our current side who I would rather have ahead of him, after all. Mesut who?
And of course, when “in goal, number 33, Petr Cech!” is roared* out over the PA system just before kick off, I will probably become almost feral in my tribal shouts.
*please for once raise the volume to a decent audible level, Arsenal!
Play for the badge on the front, and we’ll cheer the name on the back.