Finding Fabregas

It’s been a difficult start to the season for Cesc Fabregas, following on from a difficult end to last season. This week has seen the player take questions on his form and the criticism that has followed.

“The negative reviews I have been getting are something all footballers go through,” he reflected to Marca this week. “Maybe it has become easy to criticise players. I rarely got bad Press in England or with the Spanish international team. Now I have more as circumstances have changed. But I remain calm.”

Perhaps so, but as the 25-year-old tellingly admitted himself just a couple of weeks before, he had struggled under Pep Guardiola to find a role.

“Under Guardiola I never really got to grips with the system,” he told the same publication during the last international break. “I had been playing another style of football and to take on board so much so quickly was difficult, because everyone else had already got it down.”

With only nine goals in 28 appearances in La Liga last term, the Spanish international says he struggled and that his form had dipped after a bright start, following his protracted and highly publicised move to Camp Nou from Arsenal in the summer of 2011.

Many are wondering why a player of Fabregas’ undoubted skill and natural talent has had such a tough time living up to the – admittedly high – expectations placed upon him, and why he believes he was hindered by an apparent lack of freedom in Guardiola’s formation.

Fabregas played more than 200 times for Arsenal and became a firm favourite at the North London club. He has also had a major impact for his country, scoring the winning penalty in the Euro 2008 quarter-final shoot-out, setting up Andres Iniesta’s extra-time winner in the 2010 World Cup final and being part of the record-breaking team that triumphed at Euro 2012.

Tito Vilanova has taken over Guardiola’s mantle at Barcelona, but the playmaker’s problems do not appear to have receded. Fabregas has cut a disconsolate figure on the bench. Although admitting he does not enjoy being a substitute, the player has been quick to deny accusations that he also finds Vilanova’s slightly more direct tactics difficult to work with. Managing just eight minutes across the two legs of the Super Cup against Real Madrid and being substituted in each of his League appearances, the player with no goals and assists to his name this term has been notable by his absence.

Could it be that, from being the big fish in a relatively small pond at Arsenal, with the team set-up tailored to bring the best out of him, Fabregas is now surrounded by players of a much higher calibre and simply does not fit in with them or the system they play? Could it be that he cannot stand playing second fiddle to Lionel Messi, and not having the freedom he had under Arsene Wenger? He admitted this week he is unhappy.

“There's no such thing as a great substitute in the world of football – I couldn't tell you what makes a great substitute. I always wish my teammates well and put a happy face on. If I have to take my unhappy face home then so be it, but I would never let my teammates or Coach see it.

“I've always said that I play for the best team in the world, but I came here to compete, to learn and enjoy, not to sit racking my brains.”

Fabregas has admitted previous to having had a ‘mental block’ with Guardiola’s system, despite having made a positive start to life at Camp Nou last season.

Fellow Barca midfielder Xavi Hernandez has led his teammates in backing Cesc to overcome his difficulties. For his own part, Fabregas at least recognises his symptoms.

“It is true that I am a bit anarchic, but that is my style. Some people commented that I lacked something last season, including Guardiola. It was my fault really because I tried to be what I am not. I am not Xavi, [Andres] Iniesta or Thiago [Alcantara]. I am me.”

It was a frank admission by the former Emirates favourite, but as his form since has continued to suffer, whether or not he can find his niche at Vilanova’s Barca remains to be seen.