Cesc Fabregas speaks to FourFourTwo in 2009, when he was with Arsenal.
It’s lunchtime at the Emirates Stadium. Having devoured the lovely spread put on by the Arsenal catering team, journalists from every corner of the earth are wearing holes in the carpet, pacing up and down waiting for the arrival of a diminutive Spaniard.
Officially we’ve been invited to report on the launch of Nike’s new CTR360 boot and Nike Football+, a “killer combination” of “premium boots, pro training and access to the world’s top coaches and footballers,” but if the ‘Fab’ one doesn’t get here soon there’s going to be murder.
Finally we’re all shuffled into the top secret location like a herd of sheep where we watch a short presentation about the boots and then out strides Arsenal’s captain and midfield conductor Cesc Fabregas.
What’s the favourite game you’ve played in?
I’ve played in some special games with Arsenal and the national team. Obviously the final of the European Championship was really unbelievable. The semi-final against Russia was one of the best games I have ever played.
The game against Milan in the San Siro and the game against Madrid in the Bernabeu were incredible. It’s difficult to pick one, but these are my best games.
When you play in big games do you isolate yourself from the outside world and focus on football?
Yes, sometimes when there are a lot of games it’s 98 percent football and two percent life. At home you get a bit of stick, but it’s alright because it’s what I have to do and I want to win things for Arsenal.
How does playing in the Champions League differ from playing in the Premier League?
When you play in the Champions League you play against the best teams of all the leagues in Europe. They will always try to play football. You could see that when we played Olympiakos and Standard Liege – they try to attack and have a go at you. It’s nice, I like it. We [Arsenal] prefer to play these types of games.
What do you think of Polish goalkeepers Lukasz Fabianski and Wojciech Szczesny?
They are two very class goalkeepers. Lukasz is getting better since his injury. He is a really nice guy and as a ‘keeper I admire him. It is never easy to be a second ‘keeper because you don’t get many chances, but every time he gets his chance he does very well. He is great to have in the dressing room. He is a team guy. It is great that he is playing for us because he will be an amazing goalkeeper in the future. Wojciech is a young ‘keeper, we know that he is doing very well. I am sure he will be a very good ‘keeper and he will make it at Arsenal. He will play at the top.
If you were giving advice to a young player coming through the ranks at Arsenal what would you say to them?
Play simple especially on your debut because if your first three to four touches are good, you start to feel good and you’re confident and after that if you’re winger you can do a trick. But your first few touches are so important because if they’re bad your confidence will be low no matter how good you are and it’s difficult to shake that off.
What do you remember of when you first joined Arsenal?
I have always said I was very, very lucky. When I arrived I was the only boy at 16 who was training with the first team every day. I was training with Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Kanu, Patrick Vieira, they were all champions. They were 28 and had experience and they were talking to me and helping me. I was very lucky to play with these players back then. I will always remember that.
Now, because we are a young team it’s a little bit more difficult for the players coming through. The boss gives a lot of opportunities to young players. It’s easier for them to get a chance than it was before.
Were you in awe of the big players when you broke into the first team?
Yes I looked up to them. First of all for respect because of who they were and what they had done in football and because one day I wanted to be like them. I am working to be like these players who helped me a lot and I learnt so much from them.
How difficult was it dealing with your injury in 2008/09?
You have to be strong. It was difficult to take at the beginning because you never want to let your team down. I had to go to Spain for my treatment. When you’re away the team still goes on and the fans will always be there. You don’t feel lonely, but a little bit different. I was lucky because the club has always been really good, the fans were unbelievable and my team-mates were always asking how I was and when was I back? I don’t stop watching football when I’m injured. Football is football and it makes my time out injured more interesting when I am at home watching it.
What else are you going to do?
I try to help my team-mates when they are injured. Tomas Rosicky is one of the best friends I have. He has been injured for nearly two years. I was with him every day. I went to his house. As team-mates you have to be like that. There was a time when they were coming to me so when they need me I go to them. The important thing is you don’t do it because you have to, you do it because you want to. We go to each other’s houses to have dinner, but the most important thing is when they come to you, you don’t think about the injury, you’re just with your friends having a nice time.
Do you look out for particular games on the fixture list so you can invite friends and family?
No, not really they invite themselves. When the fixture list comes out I just look at the first game. I don’t really look for when we play Man United, Chelsea or Liverpool.
How did Spain win Euro 2008?
There was a game we played against Sweden which we lost [2-0 in Euro 2008 qualifying] and everyone was saying they wanted to sack the manager and that we were the worst team in Spanish history. From that game something happened and we wanted to win more than ever. From then on we wanted to play well, the confidence came back and the fans started realising we were playing well. Even if we were losing 1-0 we were relaxed because we always knew we could come back. The togetherness in that team was something special. It [winning Euro 2008] was a very special moment, probably one of the best days of my life. I will always keep it with me.
What are Spain’s chances at South Africa 2010?
Your chances are always the same. You have to start well and not be thinking about the final already. You have to go game by game. That’s what we did at the Euros and we did well. We will have to do the same in South Africa. There are always teams who are special at the World Cup – Brazil and Argentina. You always want to watch the best players, like Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
How do you deal with the competition for places in the Spain midfield?
You deal with it by training harder, giving your best and learning. I have always said I am really lucky. I am only 22 and by watching players like Xavi, Iniesta and Senna from the bench you can learn so much from them and training with them. They are great players.
What do you think of the work Fabio Capello has done with England?
He has done a good job. He has adapted well to England and at his age it’s not easy. I don’t mean for him to take that the wrong way. He has given everything to bring the national team back where they belong and he has done it really well. They are playing well and everybody is happy. I am happy for him as well. I know him and he is a very good man.
Do you like playing at grounds where the home fans don’t like you? And what is your favourite stadium?
It [abusive home fans] gives you more motivation. You think, 'Hey you don’t like me? Well I’m going to try to score and you will like me even less.' As players we feel like this. Anfield is a very, very special place. The San Siro – I love it. I fell in love with that stadium. I didn’t expect it to be so big. The pitch was perfect, the atmosphere was great and Kaka was playing. It’s a special stadium. I’ve played at the Bernabeu and Nou Camp for the national team.
Who is your hero?
I have always said, I think everyone knows, it’s Guardiola. He has always been my hero since I was young. I always watched him play.
Who is the best player of all-time?
People say Pele or Maradona, but I never saw them play. I would have to go more for Ronaldo, Dennis Bergkamp or Thierry Henry. These are players that I know. It’s difficult to choose just one player. I would pay to watch Steven Gerrard.
Who gives you the best advice?
My parents. They have always been there for me. My friends – I still have the same friends I have had since I was 3 years old. I grew up with them I can talk to them about everything. They help me in difficult times and they don’t start talking about football. They just talk about whatever and tell me when I have played badly. They don’t say 'oh you played so well today'. They are honest and I like it. When I came to Arsenal my parents said 'Always remember where you came from. Give your best. You want to go to Arsenal to be the best so you just have to try to do your best. You have to go for it'.
You have always displayed an admiration for Italian football. What is it you like about Serie A?
The football is a little bit like Spanish. They like to play football. There are some great players there. You can watch a game between two teams who are not at the top of the table and you can still enjoy it. I like it.
Would you say the Italian teams in the Champions League are not as strong as they used to be?
I would not say that, no. We have only just played the second game. Italian teams are always strong. In the past we have played against Inter Milan, Juventus and AC Milan and it has always been so difficult. And when we [Spain] play against the Italian national team it is always very good. They defend very well. They are very, very competitive and have good players. You always know it is going to be tough.
Do you watch the German Bundesliga?
I’ve watched a few games this year. The pitches in Germany are always really amazing so it makes it easier to play good football. The teams like to play offensive football so you always know there are going to be goals. There are some great players in the league like Robben and Ribery.
Do you know much about the great Hungarian player Laszlo Kubala who played for Barcelona?
I know who he is. He is a legend. I’ve watched some videos of his goals. He was a great player for Barcelona.
Do you watch any other sport?
No. I watched Spain beat Serbia in the final of the European Basketball Championship, but you have to watch that. I watch Nadal sometimes if he is playing in a big game. Other than that I just watch football.
Are you a bad loser?
Everyone is at Arsenal, but yes I am a bad loser. I always want to win everything.
If you were not a footballer what would you be doing?
Something related to sport and physical training.
Interview: October 2009.