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Cesc FÓbregas

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Francesc "Cesc" FÓbregas Soler (born 4 May 1987 in Arenys de Mar, Catalonia, Spain[1][2]) is a Spanish footballer who plays as a central midfielder for Arsenal in the English Premier League and for the Spanish national team. FÓbregas started his career as a trainee with FC Barcelona but was signed by Arsenal in July 2003. He did not feature much in his first season for The Gunners, but following injuries to key midfielders in the 2004ľ05 season, his playing time increased. Before long, he established himself as Arsenal's starting central midfielder and playmaker. He went on to break several of the club's records as he began to earn a reputation of a technically-gifted player, excellent passer of the ball and key component of the Arsenal lineup. In international football, the Spaniard's national career began at the youth level, representing the Under-17 side at the 2003 FIFA U-17 World Championship in Finland. As a result of his club performances, he was called up the senior squad and played in the 2006 World Cup. In 2006, FÓbregas committed his long-term future to Arsenal and signed an eight-year contract.

Arsenal

FÓbregas started playing his club football at FC Barcelona. During his youth career, he was played mostly as a volante (defensive midfielder), yet he was also a prolific scorer, sometimes scoring more than 30 goals in a season.[3] However, he did not play a first-team game at the Camp Nou.[4] Sensing that he would have limited opportunities at Barcelona if he stayed,[5] he decided to join Arsenal, signing for the London club on 11 September 2003.[2] Initially, he found life difficult in England's capital but soon struck a friendship with team-mate Philippe Senderos, who helped him settle down.[6] As a 16-year-old, FÓbregas did not even think about breaking into the first team but looked up to his seniors Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva, while concentrating on training and learning the English language.[6] He made his dÚbut not long after, on October 23, 2003, in a League Cup tie at home to Rotherham United. In doing so he became Arsenal's youngest ever first-team player, aged 16 years and 177 days.[7] He then became the youngest goalscorer in Arsenal's history in a later round of the League Cup, scoring from close range in a 5ľ1 victory against Wolves.[8] Although Arsenal went on to win the league unbeaten in the 2003ľ04 season,[9] FÓbregas was not given a winner's medal because he did not play in a single league game.[10]

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It was not until the start of the 2004ľ05 season that the Spaniard started making first-team appearances in matches outside the League Cup. His first match of the season was against Manchester United in the Community Shield. Following an injury to Vieira, FÓbregas stepped in and made four consecutive Premier League starts. He was praised for his performances in those games, even claiming a goal against Blackburn Rovers in a 3ľ0 victory, and becoming Arsenal's youngest ever goalscorer in a league game.[11][12] With further injuries to Edu and Gilberto Silva, more playing time in all competitions was extended to the teenager.[1][5] In the UEFA Champions League, he became the second-youngest goalscorer in the competition's history after scoring the third goal against Rosenborg in a 5ľ1 win.[13] He concluded his season by winning his first honours with Arsenal when he was in the starting eleven that defeated Manchester United on penalties in the 2005 FA Cup Final.[14]

After the departure of Vieira to Juventus, FÓbregas featured regularly in the Arsenal central midfield alongside Gilberto Silva. Inheriting the number 4 jersey from Vieira, he made 49 appearances in all competitions during the 2005ľ06 season.[10] Despite his young age, his performances came under greater scrutiny due to his increased involvement in the first team. Further, as FÓbregas possessed a smaller frame and played with less aggression than Vieira, there were initially doubts over his ability to fill in the void left by the Frenchman.[15] Nevertheless, FÓbregas asserted his own style of play and impressed pundits in the Champions League against Real Madrid and Juventus.[16][17][18] In the latter, he scored Arsenal's first goal and set up Thierry Henry for the second,[16] at the same time proving that he could compete against tough, hard-tackling midfielders like Vieira.[18] He then played in the final against his former club Barcelona, but Arsenal were defeated 2ľ1,[19] completing a trophy less 2005ľ06 campaign for Arsenal.

FÓbregas' increase in stature drew transfer speculation during the summer; Real Madrid expressed a desire to sign the Spaniard despite his long-term contract with Arsenal,[20] but Arsenal manager ArsŔne Wenger stated that Arsenal would not listen to any offers.[21] In September 2006, with six years left on his deal, Arsenal offered a new eight-year deal to the midfielder, which he signed on October 19, 2006.[22] While the contract was unusually long, FÓbregas cited Arsenal's playing style and Wenger as reasons for his long-term commitment to the club.[23][24]

The 2006ľ07 season was another learning experience for the young Arsenal squad and FÓbregas. The club again failed to secure any major honours and was defeated by city rivals Chelsea in the League Cup final.[25] However, FÓbregas emerged as one of the key creative players for the team, playing in every single league game.[10][26] He kick-started Arsenal's UEFA Champions League 2006-07 campaign when he scored a brace in a 3ľ0 win over Dinamo Zagreb in a qualifier match.[27] In the Premier League, he notched up 13 assists, which was the second-highest in the league.[10][26] He ended the season with several individual honours, including the Golden Boy award, presented by the Italian paper TuttoSport, based on a poll of leading writers across Europe.[28] He was also named in the 2006 UEFA Team of the Year,[29] and named FA Premier League Player of the Month for January 2007.[30] Additionally, he was nominated for both PFA Players' Player of the Year and PFA Young Player of the Year, although both awards went to Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo.[31] In June 2007, he was named Arsenal's Player of the Season, taking in 60% of the votes.[32]

The 2007ľ08 season began with much uncertainty for Arsenal. First, David Dein, the club's vice-chairman, left amidst allegations of internal strife. This was followed by the departure of the club's all-time top goalscorer and captain, Thierry Henry, who signed for Barcelona, as well as speculation over Wenger's future with the club.[33] FÓbregas knew immediately that he would become the most important player for Arsenal, but stated he was ready for the challenge.[34] He started the season well, chalking up goals and assists along the way,[10] and website soccernet attributed the early success of Arsenal to the young Spaniard.[35] His start to the season also earned him the O2 Player of the Month award from Arsenal fans for August, September and October,[36] as well as the Premier League Player of the Month for September.

Spanish national team

Although he features regularly for the Spain national football team,[1][37] FÓbregas' international career had already begun at the youth level. At the 2003 FIFA U-17 World Championship held in Finland, he finished as top scorer of the tournament despite playing in midfield, and was voted Player of the Tournament.[4] Spain finished runners-up in the tournament to Brazil.[38]

After emerging as one of Arsenal's key players in only his second season at the club, it did not take long for FÓbregas to be called up to the senior squad. Noting his impressive performances in Arsenal's 2006 Champions League campaign, Spain coach Luis Aragones named the teenager in the team for a friendly against the Ivory Coast.[39] In that game, FÓbregas became the youngest player capped for Spain in 70 years.[1] He received good reviews for his dÚbut, and was involved in the build-up to Spain's first goal in the 3ľ2 victory over the Ivorians.[1][40]

On May 15, 2006, FÓbregas was selected for the Spanish 2006 World Cup squad. During the tournament, he came on as a second-half substitute in Spain's first two group matches, contributing an assist in their 3ľ1 victory against Tunisia.[41] He then started alongside Spain's reserve players (including then-Arsenal teammate JosÚ Antonio Reyes) in Spain's third group match against Saudi Arabia.[42] He earned a starting role in Spain's first knockout-stage match against France, in place of Marcos Senna, but Spain lost 3ľ1.[43] FÓbregas also became the youngest player in Spanish football history to participate in a World Cup when he came on as a substitute for Luis GarcÝa after 77 minutes in the 4ľ0 victory against Ukraine on 13 June 2006; he was then 19 years and 41 days old.[44] He was later nominated for the Gillette Young Player of the World Cup, but Germany's Lukas Podolski won the award.[45]

Style of play

Originally brought to Arsenal as a youth to slowly develop via the League Cup, FÓbregas was unexpectedly deployed as Arsenal's starting central midfielder following injuries to fellow midfielders Patrick Vieira, Gilberto Silva and Edu during the 2004ľ05 season. FÓbregas functions mostly as a playmaker and his main asset is his passing range. As one of the most coveted young talents in the game today, he has been described as being a vital part of Arsenal's first team, bringing vision, creativity and selflessness to Arsenal's intricate passing game, and displaying maturity that belies his age.[1][2][4][5][32][34][46][47] In set pieces, he is one of the first-choice corner kick and free kick takers in the team.

FÓbregas has stated in interviews that while Vieira served as his role model and mentor,[48] he styles his game after his childhood hero and compatriot Josep Guardiola.[6] In that sense he is of a different mould from his Arsenal predecessors who play in the same position, preferring skill over strength.[6][15] Initially, this led to criticisms of his lightweight frame and less aggressive style of play,[15][18] with even former teammate Ashley Cole criticising the Spaniard as "an unproven featherweight" in his autobiography.[49]

However, FÓbregas' statistics have improved over the seasons, and he has adopted a more aggressive style of play. His importance to the team as the main creative force is also reflected in his contributing 15 assists in all competitions in the 2006ľ07 season.[10] By his own admission, scoring was a weaker part of his game in his first few seasons at Arsenal; wasteful finishing also being symptomatic of the larger problem surrounding Arsenal in the 2005ľ06 and 2006ľ07 seasons.[46] This changed in the 2007ľ08 season when he scored 11 goals in 16 games, although Arsenal manager Wenger claimed that the Spaniard's previous inability to score was down to a mental state, and even compared the Spaniard to Michel Platini, a French midfielder renowned for scoring.[50][51] Given his young age, concerns have also been raised over the large number of games FÓbregas has played for club and country in the last few seasons, as burnout may become an issue if he is not adequately rested,[39][52] but to date the midfielder has yet to sustain any major injuries.

Career honours

Arsenal

  • Winner
    • FA Cup: 2005
    • FA Community Shield: 2004
  • Runner-up
    • UEFA Champions League: 2005ľ06
    • League Cup: 2006ľ07
    • FA Community Shield: 2005

Spain

  • Runner-up
    • 2003 FIFA U-17 World Championship

Personal

  • UEFA Team of the Year: 2006

References and Notes

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