Cesc Fabregas has opened up on his departure from Arsenal and how the manner of his exit led Arsene Wenger to turn down the chance to re-sign him before his move to Chelsea.
Fabregas left the Barca academy at the age of 16 to join the Gunners and went on to become a fan favourite and club captain.
After eight seasons with Arsenal he chose to rejoin his boyhood club, triggering a trend of big players leaving Wenger’s side.
Despite playing regularly, Fabregas never managed to have the same impact at the Nou Camp and the Catalan club looked to sell him just three years later.
The midfielder wanted to return to the Premier League and contacted Arsenal about taking him back.
Cesc Fabregas (left) has spoken of how he ‘hurt’ Arsene Wenger (R) when he left Arsenal
Arsenal had first refusal but Wenger snubbed the midfielder’s request and he ultimately joined London rivals Chelsea.
Speaking on Kammy and Ben’s Proper Football Podcast, the 35-year-old said: ‘I really wanted to go back to the Premier League.
‘In the contract when I signed for Barcelona we said that, after I leave, Arsenal will have the first option. They had a week to respond. So obviously we approached Arsenal, we said “listen I’m leaving Barcelona and by law, you have a week to decide if you want to take me back or not.”
‘For a week I couldn’t talk to anyone (else). We noticed (sic) Arsenal, Arsene, everyone, so after a week we called Arsene and he said he’d thought about it and he said they already had a lot of players in my position like Mesut Ozil… Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and he said to fit me in he would have to play someone out and this could create, you know… I think also he was a little bit hurt… by how I left and everything.
‘I don’t hold anything bad because it’s their right, their decision and they could do what they wanted.
‘I had a few options and one of them was Chelsea. I spoke to Mourinho, I met him. He told me things that were very nice to hear. He wanted me to be the leader of that team. It just felt right.’
Fabregas made to decision to return to Barcelona and play under manager Pep Guardiola
Arsenal turned down the chance to bring back Fabregas and he signed for Chelsea instead
Fabregas, who has recently been back at Arsenal to help academy coach Jack Wilshere train the Under-18s, also spoke about his decision to leave the Emirates in the first place and why he now feels it was too soon.
‘I always said it was the most difficult decision,’ he said. ‘In my heart, it was the easiest decision in a way because of what I had in my past, because I was always a supporter and it was my dream to play for Barcelona first team since I was a child.
‘But it was really hard because Arsenal gave me so, so, so much and I felt so loved by the whole club, by the fans. The trust that they had given me from a very, very young age… it was super, super hard for me to have to go to Arsene, to the guy that gave me everything, to actually say, “please, I want to go back home.”
‘If it wasn’t Barcelona, for sure, I would have stayed at Arsenal. No matter what.
‘I think timing is always so important in football. Looking back now, probably I should have waited a little bit more until Xavi faded a little bit more – and just go there and take over his place.
‘Because of the frustration of so many years not winning at Arsenal and feeling that sometimes the club was not going through the line, or making really good signings to be super competitive in the Champions League and the (Premier) League, I just felt I was draining myself because I was giving so much and playing 60 games a season and never resting.
‘Emotionally, it just affected me quite a lot. And then seeing everyone winning in Barcelona, and playing so beautifully and Pep calling me and texting me and…”I want to do this, I want to play 3-4-3, to play all of you together and blah, blah, blah.” Everything together got the best out of me and I just decided it was the next step for me.
‘He (Guardiola) was a really big influence because he was my idol when I was very young. I wear number 4 because of him. I played in his position when I was in the academy of Barcelona. So, he was a big influence for me. And when your idol, your hero, calls you and then you see what beautiful football they’re playing, and there’s so many friends of yours playing there… But yeah, he was very important, of course.’
Fabregas also admits his lack of silverware with Arsenal is a source of big regret with defeat in the Champions League final the biggest.
‘The biggest regret of my career will always be not winning that Champions League final (in 2006) that we were so, so close. The first ever, or the only Champions League final that Arsenal has ever played and I was only 18. And we were so close,’ Fabregas said.
‘Also, not lifting a trophy as an Arsenal captain was something that will always be in my heart because I gave so much. I exhausted myself so much. I hope Arsene (Wenger) knows what I gave for the club, emotionally and physically, and in terms of everything.
Fabregas said his biggest regret was losing the 2006 Champions League final to Barcelona
Fabregas has been back at Arsenal to help academy coach Jack Wilshere train the Under-18s
‘I feel sometimes… it’s just because not lifting anything, it can feel a little bit like ‘Oh, yeah, he was really good, but nothing happened.’ Inside of you, it gives you a little bit of sadness in a way, of regrets. Not because I didn’t give my all, which I did and I think I overdid it. But yeah, not lifting a trophy – an important one – because obviously the FA Cup… You know, a trophy is a trophy and it’s great, but making it to the next level ,you need to win a major, major trophy.’
But he believes the current team can succeed where he failed.
When asked if Arsenal can win the Premier League title, he said: ‘Yes, I really hope so because I feel a bit identified with this group of players – with the Odegaards, the Sakas, Martinellis, Smith Rowes. I can see myself in their eyes…I was at the training ground recently and I saw them and they’re super good kids. Humble, they want to work hard.
‘There is a lot of chemistry between them and we really had that. It’s just once we were getting into March… April, March, it was always [at] that moment where we couldn’t keep up because of injuries.’
You can listen to Kammy & Ben’s Proper Football Podcast here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/brand/p0cpx9nk