Exclusive interview: As Chelsea face Liverpool for a cup final place, Cesc Fabregas says the Premier league leaders need to show they are ruthless when the stakes are high Cesc Fabregas may have a sixth sense for a killer pass, but he needed to reach for a pen and paper when Jose Mourinho offered him a return to the Premier League with Chelsea.
Chelsea’s move to sign the former Arsenal captain from Barcelona as a replacement for Frank Lampard was one of the shock moves of the summer transfer window last year.
Rather than relying solely on his imagination to see how he would fit into Mourinho’s team, Fabregas wanted to see it in black and white.
“When Chelsea came, of course I studied in my mind how I could fit in, but I also wrote down the team. I always write the team down,” Fabregas said.
“I had spoken to the manager and I knew what he wanted from me, but after that I always try to analyse what kind of squad there is, if it’s good for my type of football because sometimes you can be as good as you want but you don’t fit in some certain styles. I felt it was a really good move for me after I wrote down the squad.”
Chelsea face a big and potentially decisive week, starting with a Capital One Cup semi-final second leg against Liverpool on Tuesday night. Fabregas and his team-mates need to provide a reaction to the Bradford City FA Cup humiliation by booking a Wembley date after drawing the first leg at Anfield 1-1.
Failure to do so would not only result in what was a possible quadruple being halved, but also raise doubts about Chelsea’s ability to hold on to a five-point lead over Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table, ahead of the sides’ Stamford Bridge showdown on Saturday.
Fabregas knows better than most what it takes to win silverware and also that the best team cannot simply rely on talent to earn them medals. He is a World Cup and double European Championship winner with Spain, and secured La Liga, Copa Del Rey and Club World Cup winners’ medals during a three‑year second stint at Barcelona.
He has only an FA Cup winner’s medal to show for his eight years at Arsenal, however, and experienced first hand how Mourinho’s Chelsea teams of old could drag themselves over the line. “At Chelsea, for sure we can win many, many medals for the next years because we have a very talented young team,” Fabregas said. “But it’s not about the talent now, it’s not about the team, it’s about how much we want it.
“If this team really wants it to the end and we are focused and determined to achieve big things, then I’m sure in the next few years Chelsea can be a top team.
“I played against Chelsea teams that maybe talent-wise were not at the level of this team, but mentally they were there. You knew that every single game you played against Chelsea it was going to be tough and that’s what we have to prove with this team. I think we are playing very attractive football, a team that is enjoying their football. You can see that on the players’ faces and in the body language.
“We are really enjoying the way we play, we are helping each other and it’s nice to see. But people will not remember that if we don’t win the Premier League or whatever, so we have to make sure that we compete until the end.
“The Capital One Cup is the first trophy of the season, so you want to be there, we want to be in the final, so we’ll try our best and, hopefully, it will be a very good night for us.”
One of the clearest examples of the mental strength that helped Mourinho’s Chelsea teams of old deliver so much success was the 2007 League Cup final, in which Fabregas played for Arsenal.
Fabregas and his young Arsenal team-mates earned the plaudits for an impressive performance, but Chelsea left the Millennium Stadium with the trophy, having won 2-1.
“At Arsenal, we were most of the games [against Chelsea] the better team, but we were always losing,” Fabregas said. “I always said the same thing. Arsenal, Arsenal, Arsenal, Arsenal. Then one long ball or one free-kick, Drogba goal. It was always the same.
“That tells you that it’s not always about the quality and the talent, it’s also about how much you want it, how much you know how to play your game. Their game was stay compact, compact, compact, compact, take your chances. They did it very well and they had good players, so you have to respect that.
“In terms of winning titles, of course I felt that at Arsenal we could have won more than we did because we arrived to finals and semi-finals, and most of the time we were nearly there. Of course, there is something in your heart that regrets not having won. You need that drive. I always felt it at Chelsea from the outside. You need trophies. You see Chelsea as a team who has to win trophies. It’s the same as Barcelona.
“To be successful on a daily basis, when you go to Europe and you are fighting in the last games when you want to win the Premier League, we are going to need this drive and strong mentality to be the best.”
Experience will be crucial for Chelsea as they attempt to close out a season that still promises so much. Fabregas is now 27, having played for 11 years at the top level.
“I have lived many great moments in football, also really bad ones, so I do maybe have a bit more experience than a normal 27‑year‑old, but I am just trying to do my best to help,” Fabregas said. “We have young players and we just have to make them see that if we are strong and mentally ready to compete, we can win big things.”
Fabregas became a captain at 21 when he was handed the Arsenal armband in 2008. Mourinho has hinted he could one day captain Chelsea and the Spaniard has not ruled out the possibility of eventually succeeding John Terry.
“First, there are many great characters and John Terry will play for a few more years,” Fabregas said. “But if they ask me [to be captain], then why not? It’s not something I think about, though.”
With or without the captain’s armband, Fabregas has never been afraid to speak his mind in the dressing room.
“Players at Arsenal can tell you better, when I was captain or wasn’t captain it didn’t change what I do,” Fabregas said. “Even at Barcelona or here, if I have to tell something to the team or some players, I will do it. That’s my personality, that’s how I am. With the armband or without the armband, I feel always the same.”
Fabregas has set up 20 goals in all competitions already for Chelsea and has become the first player to chalk up 15 assists or more in two Premier League seasons. He is firmly on course to beat the record of his former Arsenal team‑mate and friend Thierry Henry, who assisted 20 Premier League goals during the 2002-03 campaign.
“You sense situations,” Fabregas said. “I’m just thinking always for the next move, what will happen. I always try to look around before the ball comes to me, but I don’t know specifically how I do it. It just comes naturally. Sometimes it goes good, sometimes it doesn’t go good, but I try, I keep trying and I’m persistent in some final balls.
“You have to have the eye for it. You can see a pass and decide not to play it. Me, I see 10 passes and I will try eight, so I am very persistent. I know this will make me lose more balls than normal because I could player two-metre passes. But, instead, I prefer to try for the 30‑metre passes. I know like this I will always lose more balls, but at the same time I will create many opportunities for my team-mates.
“Of course, I would like to beat Thierry’s record, but it’s not an obsession. Sometimes you go five games without any assists and all of a sudden in one game you have three. It’s always been a part of my game. I think every year I have good numbers in assists. I have a soft spot for assists and killer passes since I am very, very young. I like it.”
Like a great striker who can instantly relive his best goals, Fabregas has his favourite assists ready to reel off and broods over the ones that got away.
“For Chelsea, the one for Diego [Costa] against Arsenal was very good,” Fabregas said. “Before Chelsea, the one in the World Cup final – the last minute of a World Cup final – will always stay with me. The one with David Silva in the final of the 2012 European Championships and the one with Daniel Guiza in the semi-final of Euro 2008.
“I remember assists like a goalscorer remembers goals. I have a soft spot for them. The pass I was disappointed that it wasn’t a goal was the other day against Swansea.
“I hit a volley to leave Diego one‑on‑one with the goalkeeper and he didn’t score, and I killed him afterwards because it could have been one of my best ever.”
It is not just his passing ability that attracted Mourinho to Fabregas, as he has always possessed a strength of character and devilment that could be equally as vital for Chelsea.
He fought his way into the Arsenal team aged 16 and eventually took Patrick Vieira’s shirt, battled for a position alongside the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta in one of the finest Barcelona club sides of all time and decided to return to England with Chelsea, one of Arsenal’s closest rivals. “I have made tough decisions, but I always take it in a positive way,” Fabregas said.
“I am a competitor, wherever I go I compete. I don’t care what people say or what they think of me, I go to be the best and to win my spot in the first XI, and this will never change.”
Chelsea will lean heavily on their tough competitor with a soft spot for a killer pass over the next four months.