Describing Cesc Fabregas as one of this season’s revelations in Spain might sound a bit odd. After all, we are talking about a world and European champion, and one of the most influential players in the English Premier League in recent years. For all that, not many people expected him to make his mark so quickly or emphatically in a Barcelona midfield considered, almost unanimously, to be the best in the game.
It comes as no surprise then to find the midfield maestro content in Barça’s colours. He is, after all, enjoying a rich vein of form and back playing for the club that nurtured him as a youngster. Now, in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the 24-year-old talks about his final season with Arsenal, coming home to Barcelona and his expectations for this month’s FIFA Club World Cup in Japan.
FIFA.com: How have you felt in your first few months back in Barcelona?
Cesc Fabregas: Very comfortable, happy in fact. I’ve been greatly encouraged by my good early-season form. To be honest, everyone at the club has been helping me a great deal, above all my team-mates, some of whom I’ve known for many years. In addition, the fans have been great with me, so I’ve really no complaints.
You left Barça in 2003, when you were just 16. Has the club changed much in your time away?
In part it’s changed a lot, but in other respects it remains the same. It’s a very intimate environment, familial you could say, and it’s incredible what we experience here together every day. We really enjoy our training sessions and games. It’s truly something to be savoured, as that degree of togetherness is rare.
Did you expect to make such a good start?
If I’m honest, yes, even if I knew that getting a place in this team would be very complicated. I’m satisfied because, whenever I’ve been available, I’ve got on the pitch, and I’ve ended up playing in almost every game.
Do you think your versatility has helped in this respect – you’ve played almost everywhere on the pitch – and if you could choose, what position would you take?
(Laughs) It’s true, I’ve played inside [right and left], on the wings, up front, in the hole… I’ve had to adapt to the circumstances because I’d always played central midfield, which is where I feel best. That said, I try to do what’s asked of me no matter where I’m deployed, and in this system I feel very comfortable wherever I find myself.
Would you say your experience in English football has helped make you a more complete player?
I don’t know about more complete but, no question, I learned a lot. I’d say it’s helped me to play faster, more physically and more directly.
It would be fair to say your last season with Arsenal didn’t go according to plan. Did you realise by then your time in England was coming to an end?
Not for one moment, because I never knew what the future held. I was an Arsenal player and under contract until 2014, so I wasn’t thinking of leaving. Some people claimed that, just because I didn’t play very much and had a lot of injuries, that it was a bad season for me. I disagree. I still scored nine goals and made 20 assists. What is true is that I had one injury after another, and every time I got back to full fitness, something else would happen and I’d have to start again from scratch. For all that, mentally I was 100 per cent focused on Arsenal.
You’ve also done well with the national team recently. Has your time now arrived to play a more starring role with Spain?
I hope to be more involved. I’ve been with the team for six years now but have never felt like a starter. Yes, I’ve had playing time here and there, but it’s hard to really show your worth when you have so little time. However, I’ve never complained about it, and I never will. I’ll always be available when the coach needs me.
Returning to club matters, you have the big showdown with Real Madrid on 10 December, then the FIFA Club World Cup right afterwards. Can you sense the pressure?
This is Barcelona and we’re obliged to win every game. It’s what people expect. That makes it mandatory for us and we have to deliver. It’s the same for Real Madrid, AC Milan, Manchester United, Juventus and Bayern, among others. That’s just the way it is at big clubs.
How do you feel heading into your first FIFA Club World Cup?
Very enthusiastic, naturally. I don’t know Japan as this will be my first time there. We’ll need to adapt quickly, though, as we go straight into a very tough game with very little time to prepare. It will also be a long journey with time zone complications involved. But as I said before, the only thing that matters is winning the world title, which is what we’ll be trying to do.
Are you keen to discover Japan as a country?
For sure, although it will be difficult. Like it or not, we’re going there to play and do a job… We’ll be trying to win a trophy, so we’ll leave the sightseeing to the friends and family that come with us. I’m sure we’ll have a few showing up. After all, this is Japan! (laughs)