Fabregas set to shine
As Cesc Fabregas danced joyously with his Spain team-mates after their UEFA EURO 2008 final victory over Germany, the Arsenal star knew his football education was complete.
Fabregas has been one of European football's most dazzling gems for several years, but the elegant midfielder found silverware increasingly hard to come by for both club and country. Arsenal have under-achieved since he became established as a key figure for Arsene Wenger's side, while Spain's record as international flops was infamous.
So when the final whistle blew in Vienna to signal Spain's first major trophy for 44 years, Fabregas felt a huge weight lifted from his shoulders. Finally he knew what it took to reach a sporting pinnacle and the experience has left him hungry for more.
At 21, Fabregas should garner all the rewards his lavish talent deserves by the time he calls it quits. But the memory of his success with Spain has left him impatient to end Arsenal's three-year trophy drought this season. "Before the Euros, I didn't know how it felt to win. But now that I have experienced it, I know what it takes," Fabregas said. "You need to have tasted it.
"Chelsea hadn't won anything in many years. They got experienced players in, won the league and that gave them the confidence together. Sometimes that is the key.
"Everyone said before last season that we weren't going to finish among the top four and we proved them wrong. But we were halted at the gates of success and that's hard. It has to serve as a lesson this season."
After starting EURO 2008 among Luis Aragones's reserves, Fabregas made some crucial contributions in the latter stages, earning a starting place for the final and renewed talk of a move to Real Madrid or Barcelona.
Indebted to Wenger
With Alexander Hleb and Mathieu Flamini leaving Arsenal for Barcelona and AC Milan respectively during the close-season, it would have been easy for Fabregas to feel the club was going backwards. But he insists he owes a debt to Wenger for the way the Gunners manager developed his unpolished talent when he signed him from Barca as a naive teenager.
While a move to Spain in the future seems likely, Fabregas is determined to restore Arsenal to the top first and he has no intention of leaving anytime soon. "I have not spoken to any media so it's frustrating to read quotes that I have supposedly said about my future," Fabregas said. "I think that some people are just trying to make mischief but my intentions are very clear. I am happy here at Arsenal, my future is with Arsenal and the priority is to achieve success and win trophies at Arsenal."
Such loyal sentiments are remarkable from a young man in a game rife with greed and self-interest. But Fabregas has always been wise beyond his years.
It was clear from the moment he made his Arsenal debut at 16 that nothing could faze him, and he has become increasingly vocal in the dressing room since the departure of Thierry Henry, Sol Campbell and Dennis Bergkamp. William Gallas remains Wenger's choice as captain, but it surely won't be long before Fabregas gets the armband on a permanent basis.
"I've shown that I can take that responsibility and if I was made captain, I'd give even more. I don't know where I'd get that little extra from, but I'd try to find it," Fabregas said. "But I'm only 21. Right now, I just want to win something for Arsenal."