Wednesday 21 February 2018

Government of the strong has no place for a son of privilege

'Cesc Fabregas will be booed today and it will confirm his rejection of his simple upbringing'
'Cesc Fabregas will be booed today and it will confirm his rejection of his simple upbringing'

Dion Fanning

Last week it was reported that Claude, the Arsenal fan who has achieved a sort of celebrity simply by being angry most of the time, wanted the banners of Cesc Fabregas which hang outside the Emirates to be taken down, preferably before today's game against Chelsea.

The modern fan, or the version we hear most stridently from, takes this stuff seriously, demonstrating at all times his devotion to his team by waging a war against heretics and apostates. He finds these transgressors wherever he goes.

Toni Duggan, the striker with Manchester City women's team, apologised a few weeks ago after she posted a picture of herself with Louis van Gaal. Many reports stated the picture had been taken "just hours" after City had been beaten 4-2 at Old Trafford, the 'just hours' emphasising the deep inappropriateness of anyone showing anything but grief during that dark time.

Duggan deleted the picture and expressed regret for her error of judgment, which in reality was judging in error that people can keep things in perspective even if the outrage in that instance is confected and the apology is simply part of the game.

Perspective is, in fact, seen as not just alien but also a dilution of your great commitment in an age when supporters compensate for their distance from the players they follow by becoming increasingly loud and shrill about their devotion.

In the aftermath of Duggan's apology, it was pointed out that Bob Paisley had taken part in a lap of honour with Matt Busby before Liverpool played United in the League Cup final in 1983, something which would probably have resulted in Paisley's dismissal and the stripping of Busby's honorary titles had it happened today

Claude, a 'superfan', wants the posters of Fabregas to be taken down, citing as evidence Fabregas' kissing of the Chelsea badge when they won the Capital One Cup.

Arsene Wenger has called for Fabregas to be respected today. Of course he won't be but there is nothing too unusual in that. Fabregas plays for Chelsea now so even if he hadn't kissed the badge of another club, he has converted to the other side.

Arsenal has become used to losing players and when they first lost Fabregas, it seemed to be a noble departure as he returned to Barcelona to complete the circle and take up his position as Xavi's heir.

It didn't work out like that and when Wenger spoke this week of his regret, it was that Fabregas had left for Barcelona in the first place, not that he hadn't returned.

Fabregas represented the Wengerian dream. He had been shaped in Barcelona, that was true, but then he came to embody the Arsenal principles, articulating them on the field, even in those moments when he tussled with Mark Hughes and wondered if it was true that he had once played for Barcelona.

In those days, Arsenal looked set to pursue the same ideals. Unlike Barcelona, they were unable to follow them while winning. They could finish second this season and there may be some who will insist this was a title challenge. Arsenal last finished second in 2005 when they spent most of the season in that position without truly challenging Chelsea.

Wenger said they didn't need Fabregas when he left Barcelona last summer. Instead he arrived at Chelsea and during the early days of the season, he seemed to represent the fusion of Mourinho's model with Abramovich's desire to see something resembling beautiful football at Stamford Bridge. He was central to Chelsea's superb start to the season when they looked determined to win the Premier League by Christmas.

Since then, there has been a shift. If presidential candidates campaign in poetry and govern in prose, Mourinho has always seen the first half of the season as campaign time, a period when there is freedom for great oratorical flourishes and the opportunity to outline a vision for a better world. Fabregas represented that vision in the early months even if he was buttressed by the presence of Nemanja Matic, the gnarled campaign manager who knows that things will eventually turn negative and is prepared for that eventuality.

After Christmas, they have got lowdown and dirty. Until he got the winner at QPR, Fabregas hadn't scored since before Christmas and he had made the same number of assists in three months as he had in the first four games of the season.

Was Fabregas' marginalisation the reason Chelsea were now playing badly and winning or has he been marginalised as Mourinho switched from poetry to prose? Mourinho not only believes that his way of playing is the most effective way but ultimately it's what football is about, something others would acknowledge if they only had his honesty. At times, it is easy to see him as Oliver Stone's Nixon, staring at a portrait of Kennedy and mumbling that "when they look at you, they see what they want to be. When they look at me, they see what they are."

It is Guardiola who represents Kennedy to Mourinho's Nixon but Wenger, too, symbolises something else. They have little in common in their approach to life, like a hedge fund manager trying to get on with his brother-in-law who lives on berries and nuts and takes his holidays camping in the local woods.

Fabregas represents the connection between the two men, the son of privilege now does his best to represent another style of football even if he is often superfluous when it is being represented.

Wenger could never do what Mourinho does. He has his principles but Mourinho has his too and in recent months, when people say Chelsea have been playing badly, it may be that those principles were being displayed. He would concede too much to the forces he has opposed if he played expansive football as he closed in on a title. It would be a self-destructive act to beat Manchester United by outscoring them, say, 4-3, when the alternative is to demonstrate that keeping a clean sheet is a talent too.

Fabregas will be booed today and it will confirm his rejection of his simple upbringing and, as Mourinho probably sees it, the moment when he dispenses with childish things. He is on the other side now, the side that always wins.

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