I don’t think I’ll ever get closer to forgiving Fabregas for abandoning my club than Monday night.
Watching him put in the ultimate ‘Anti-Spurs’ performance filled me with nostalgia for the days when he used to deliver that level of passion, of hostility and of downright antagonism for us.
Niggly challenges, which caught the back of opponents enough to rile them but not enough to result in fouls or bookings, a look of utter disgust each time he was fouled, and the odd snide comment behind the back of his hand.
Add to that his reported shenanigans in the tunnel (b******-flicking? Really?!) and it was a pretty good throwback to the grand old days of Pizzagate.
But as the gifs and vines made their way onto Twitter, rewatching some of the clips reminded me exactly why the Fabregas of old – the Fabregas I adored – well, he just doesn’t exist any more.
The false incense at having his hand stepped on was a case in point. I’m sure it hurt in the heat of the moment, and in my mind there’s no doubt Lamela intended it 100% and should, therefore, be joining a number of his teammates on the sidelines. However, did it really warrant the hand-waving in the face of the linesman which was subsequently mocked and likened to girls showing off their freshly painted nails?
When you've been to the smoking area but the bouncer can't see your stamp. pic.twitter.com/xhNqpap9tw
— Jonny Gabriel (@JonnyGabriel) May 2, 2016
I don’t remember that level of play-acting when he was at Arsenal. Perhaps that’s my own rose tinted spectacles, but although he was always a bit of a wind-up, it reminded me more of the way Barcelona behaved even when they were the best team in the world.
So when I saw him doing it on Monday, it reminded me of that very Barcelona defection, and, in turn, that reminded me that – for all his protestations of love for Arsenal – he now wears the blue of Chelsea.
To be clear, I blame him for neither the defection nor the donning of blue. Barcelona were his home town club and the most successful club in the world, so he was always likely to return. And by the time he’d worked out he wasn’t quite good enough for them, we’d signed a replacement in the shape of Mesut Ozil.
But I do blame him for leaving Arsenal, and more particularly the timing of that departure.
Wrong place, wrong time
A small and unwilling part of me recognises that for any player, the idea of returning to their boyhood club is a greater appeal than staying at “by far the greatest team the world has ever seen.” However, while I understand it, it certainly doesn’t mean I have to like it.
As for the timing, it’s so easy to ignore the years between 2005 and 2014 as repetitious years which were all failures, simply because that’s what the media incessantly told us. Yet it ignores how close we came to winning things with a young team in years when we had to sell our best players but still remain in the Champions League places.
Yet we came close on a number of occasions. Our 2007-8 season could have seen us win the title had the cards fallen in our favour even half as much as they have in Leicester’s this year. Or even perhaps if Martin Taylor had just been a little more careful. Our 2010-11 season, which was to prove Fabregas’ last, was hardly an abject failure either. Yes, the Carling Cup Final loss was pathetic, but the Champions League exit at the hands of Barcelona was almost a triumph of tactics had the ref not sent Robin van Persie off in ludicrous fashion or indeed Bendtner had put away his chance.
These are what if’s and I don’t wish to dwell on them too long. Frankly it’s depressing to think how different the story could have been. But they do lay waste to the idea that we were always a bunch of ‘also-rans’ during that austerity period, and therefore to the idea that no one in their right mind would want to stay at the club. The potential was there to achieve good or even great things, with just an addition or two, or even the retention of a player or two who walked away at the wrong time.
And Fabregas was one of those.
To put my own level of irritation at his departure into context, I should probably admit that by the summer of 2011 my view of Fabregas had practically turned into hero worship.
For all three years of university I had a life-sized poster of the Spanish maestro on my wall, kissing the Arsenal badge, and by the end of my degree I had just managed to get my hands on my very first season ticket for the year ahead.
I packed up my poster to head home, but by the time I was ready to unpack Fabregas was wearing a new shirt and kissing a new badge.
This wasn’t a player bought in, this was a player who had been brought right through the club. At the time, it was like a betrayal. He shamelessly engineered the move and in doing so it felt like everything you had believed about his love for the club was false.
When Fabregas talks about Arsenal now, it’s clear he harbours a great deal of love for the club, and if he had been allowed to rejoin us would have jumped at the chance. We probably all understand why he left, and some are man enough to forgive him for doing so.
Salt in the wound
It doesn’t help that the club he joined was Barca. Fabregas might love the Catalans but for me there are few teams I despise more, and I’d be struggling to think of one outside of these shores. It’s not even jealousy, although that would be understandable. I just look at them and wonder: how can you be the best team in the world by a country mile and still need to cheat?
The diving, the rolling, the crying – it’s all playground stuff that referees fall for time and again. And then, of course, there are the painful memories of 2006 and the aforementioned 2011 defeats, and the media campaign they ran for two consecutive summers in an ultimately successful attempt to recapture Fabregas’ DNA.
At the time, I didn’t even think he would play for them, given that they boasted a midfield which included Xavi and Iniesta. So for me, it was a bit like the kid at school who has three chocolate bars already but still wants to beat you up so he can take yours away from you.
Cesc was my chocolate bar.
Love for football certainly isn’t logical, or else I’d have lost interest long ago, but the downside of that is that most of us tend to get overly invested in the passing actors who grace the stage of N5. And that means that when they do move on before we’re ready for them to do so, it burns, as in the case of one Cesc Fabregas.
However, that whole episode taught me one very valuable lesson:
My love for Arsenal is unconditional, but my love for those fleeting actors is very much not.
I will never forgive Cesc Fabregas for not loving Arsenal as much as I do. And I won’t apologise for that.