Numbers add up to explain why Fabregas is struggling
Published 14/12/2015 | 02:30
It's a measure of how long Cesc Fabregas has been around that the first Premier League goalkeeper he faced was Nigel Martyn when Arsenal thumped Everton 4-1 thanks to goals from Dennis Bergkamp, Jose Reyes, Freddie Ljungberg and Robert Pires.
Fabregas was 21 years younger than Martyn on that day in 2004 when another precocious young talent wasn't involved in the Everton squad, having handed in a transfer request earlier that month.
There has been a lot of focus this season on the waning powers of Wayne Rooney but the similarities between his form and that of Fabregas has been stark as the miles in their legs slow down what had previously been an irrepressible influence in most of the games they played.
By any rational assessment both have had supremely successful careers but neither has quite dominated their position on a world scale as they threatened to do as teenagers.
Young strikers can often burst on the scene using raw physical attributes like pace and power, but it's rare that central midfielders are trusted to have the mental toughness, poise and bravery when they are just teenagers. Arsene Wenger trusted Fabregas so much that he allowed Patrick Vieira to leave.
By the age of 19, Fabregas had already made 100 Arsenal appearances and given the number of games he has played since, it's unsurprising that they seem to be catching up with him.
The game against Everton was Fabregas' fourth in an Arsenal shirt and he has since made 618 senior appearances, including over 100 caps for Spain in one of the greatest international teams of any era.
Not every game would have been difficult but the standards required to play for Arsenal, Barcelona, Chelsea and Spain means Fabregas was never able to let his own drop.
It's 591 weeks since the game against Everton, meaning that Fabregas has averaged just over one game a week, every week for 11 years. Take out a conservatively estimated five-week summer break across that period and 618 appearances in 536 weeks gives a decent explanation to his apparently sudden drop in form.
Three years ago, Michael Owen wrote a blog in which he compared the numbers of games played by English players before their 24th birthday and the impact it had on the longevity of their career.
Wayne Rooney's total was 380, Owen's 316, Emile Heskey 284 while Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, who played until they were 38 and 40 respectively, featured just 123 and 112 times. The highest midfielder on the list is Steven Gerrard at 261 but, by 24, Fabregas had already racked up 328.
"Both (Rooney and Heskey) had the physical strength to compete from a young age and both made an immediate impact," wrote Owen. "Over the past 20 years, Manchester United have had the luxury of rotating a fantastic squad of players whereas most other teams have had to rely so heavily on certain players that they play every minute of every game. This simply has to be a contributory factor when it comes to the likelihood of picking up injuries later on in a player's career.
"The problem is that as a young player you want to play every week and therefore it has to be the responsibility of the manager to take the decision to rest young players, thereby giving them the best chance of a long and injury-free career."
Fabregas followed the example of Tony Adams in becoming Arsenal captain at the age of 21 and, in the way that Owen described, quickly became a player who was relied upon to produce in virtually every game.
When Barcelona re-signed him, Fabregas seemed certain to take the next step into the elite level which housed Xavi and Andres Iniesta but, relatively speaking, his time at Barcelona was unsuccessful, with just a domestic league and cup to show for his three seasons.
What was more significant was that even with Xavi just a year away from leaving, Barcelona were willing to let him leave.
Fabregas was superb in his first season at Chelsea but, much like Bastian Schweinsteiger at United, there should have been suspicion about why one of Europe's elite clubs were willing to sell a player to a potential rival.
Fabregas hasn't spent long on the sidelines through injury but may be about to have an enforced break, with Chelsea producing their best performance of the season against Porto last week while Fabregas watched from the bench.
He was replaced by Ramires, who may not have anything like Fabregas' range of passing but brings an energy to the team which has been lacking from the Spaniard so far this season.
Against Bournemouth nine days ago, Fabregas played in a deeper midfield role alongside Nemanja Matic but was neither quick enough in possession to start Chelsea's attacks or strong enough defensively to prevent them coming in the opposite direction.
Ahead of him, Eden Hazard, Oscar, Willian and Pedro took turns playing in the three attacking roles behind the striker.
Wenger justified not attempting to re-sign Fabregas last season by arguing that his best position was in the 'No 10' role where Arsenal were already well stocked and, at Chelsea, Fabregas now finds himself a long way down the pecking order for that spot.
It was hardly a masterstroke from Jose Mourinho to drop one of his most under-performing players but if Chelsea can get any momentum, starting tonight against Leicester, it might be a while before Fabregas finds himself back in the starting line-up.
As a 28-year-old heading for 700 professional games, a break might not be a bad thing.
Tweets of the week
James McArthur (@jamesmcarthur16)
That’s one of the best points all season thanks to @WayneHennessey1 and the crossbar #cpfc
The Crystal Palace man is grateful to escape Goodison Park with a point.
Rio Ferdinand (@rioferdy5)
As a @ManUtd player I was embarrassed going from the Champions league to the Europa league...we expected more of ourselves.
The former Manchester United defender struggles to come to terms with their current plight.
Mesut Ozil (@MesutOzil1088)
Naaaa na na nanananaaaa nanaanaa Giroooouuuuud!! #Arsenal #last16 #YaGunnersYa
The playmaker isn’t even putting a syllable out of place at the moment.
Unbelievable - found by Dave Mitchell yesterday afternoon - three Koi Carp in the Waterworks End goal mouth #cufc
The Waterworks end is a particularly appropriate tag given the flooding at Brunton Park last week
Basti Schweinsteiger (@BSchweinsteiger)
The last days haven’t been easy for us, but we will work hard to make our fans proud again! #mufc
If the German thought things could only get better after United’s European exit, he was sadly mistaken.
Stephen Hunt (@stephenhunt1010)
A bit disappointed for Scotland not to be in Euro draw would have been great but sure we will be just fine without them
It won’t be the first ‘wish you were here’ tweet sent to the much missed Scots
Charlie Daniels (@chazdaniels13)
Yesterday was all for @HarryArter2 . To show that amount of courage not only to play but the level of his performance was exceptional!
Perfectly put by the Bournemouth man