Every Arsenal fan remembers that night in 2011 against the peak of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, when their Emirates home of five years burst alive for the very first time: that Andrey Arshavin winner and that Gunners academy product who stole the show amid a cacophony of noise.
Jack Wilshere was man-of-the-match in the Champions League last-16 first leg nine years ago, oozing composure alongside Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song and Samir Nasri in midfield. Now meant to be in his prime at 28, Wilshere is unattached – and unwanted.
‘Jack was such a good talent, one of the most talented players I’ve ever played with,’ Fabregas, from his home at Monaco, tells Sportsmail.
Cesc Fabregas spoke to Sportsmail about the Premier League, VAR and his time at Monaco
Fabregas believes ex-Arsenal team-mate Jack Wilshere could have made it ‘big time’ in Europe
‘He was just 16 when he first came to train with us and I was like “wow this guy is good, strong, sharp.” It’s a big shame what has happened to him, I feel sorry because he could have been a proper English legend of the game.
‘We always talk about how British players would adapt to teams in Europe – I always believed that Jack was one of the few Brits who could have made it big time at Real Madrid or Barcelona.
‘Same with Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale. These guys are so talented, without injuries they could have done much more.’
Fabregas, then-Arsenal skipper, would go on to leave for boyhood club Barcelona that summer but did return to London in 2014 – this time for rivals Chelsea, after Arsene Wenger passed up the opportunity to re-sign him.
Fabregas was Arsenal captain when Wilshere broke into the first-team in the 2010-11 season
The playmaker, something of a cult figure with supporters wherever he goes, would go on to win two titles at Stamford Bridge and despite his move to France in January 2019, the Premier League is still a division he keeps a close eye on.
Only last week did the 33-year-old reveal his Fantasy team to his 11.6 million followers on Instagram. Such is his love of the English game, Fabregas can’t resist a rant when approached on the topic of VAR, handballs and penalties.
But he also presents a solution, taking a leaf out of rugby’s book, to improve communication between referees and supporters.
The 33-year-old shared his fantasy football team on Instagram last week to gauge opinion
Fabregas returned to London in 2014 and won the Premier League in his first season at Chelsea
‘It’s being used in the wrong way, if you see everything closely in slow motion everything will be more aggravated,’ he explains.
‘For handballs, if you are one metre away, how are you supposed to take your arms away? There’s so many things the referees need to come out and clarify, why not?
‘I would like to hear what the referee and VAR say to each other, how they’re experiencing the moment. This would help us all to understand what they’re seeing and how they acknowledged the foul, penalty or red card.
‘I wouldn’t say it’s ruining [football] yet because it will stay here for good. If it’s used the right way it can be a very good tool for the referees but at the same time, there’s many things that should be improved.’
Incidents like the penalty given for Leicester against Wolves last Sunday have been criticised
Fabregas says fans should be able to hear the conversation between the referee and the VAR
Speaking on this season as a whole, Fabregas backs Chelsea to be title contenders alongside standout candidates Liverpool and Manchester City, clearly impressed by Frank Lampard’s £230m worth of summer investments.
‘I like this team a lot. They added a lot of quality, speed and creativity which was missing. They also added leadership in Thiago Silva. They should aim to win the league this season because I believe with Liverpool and Man City they have the best squad talent-wise.’
As for Arsenal?
‘They have a new project, I believe what Mikel [Arteta] is doing is nice. The players are fascinated by how he came in and changed the training ground, the methodology, how he prepares for games…
‘He makes it easier for his teams to understand how to attack, how to defend – I like his ideas, all I’m hearing is positive.’
Frank Lampard’s Chelsea should challenge for the Premier League title this season, says Fabregas but he does not say the same about Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal
Now in the twilight of his career, Spanish World Cup winner Fabregas is enjoying his current role at Monaco, where he is the most experienced player in Niko Kovac’s side.
Though revealing he acts as a mentor to a core group which is between the age of 19-22, amidst intense double sessions on the Mediterranean coast, the serial trophy winner at both club and international level has not lost sight of what continues to drive him.
‘The main ambition is still to win, 100 per cent,’ Fabregas says, adamantly.
‘If you don’t have this, that means you’ve lost the passion for the game and it’s not something that’s happening to me at all, at least for now. It was the best decision for me and my family to come here after Chelsea did not offer more than a year to me.
The playmaker is enjoying the challenge in Ligue 1 at Monaco after nearly two years in France
‘Thierry [Henry, then Monaco manager] called me regularly to add to the project and it was important to sign a longer-term contract.’
A contract was sealed until 2022, yet with Monaco currently sixth in Ligue 1 after 10 games, completing his personal trophy collection with the Champions League – after a final appearance in 2006 and four semi-finals – seems distant to say the least.
Never give up hope though, one pass at a time. ‘Obviously it’s the only trophy I didn’t win in football so it’s that black dot in my career,’ Fabregas admits.
‘But first of all we need to qualify, which won’t be easy with a lot of teams improving in France – let’s just stick to the plan.’
Fabregas is the exclusive judge for the 2020 ‘Best Trick’ competition at the Red Bull Street Style event this weekend, in a field which includes female participant Lia Lewis Gribius from the UK.
You can watch the Bull Street Style World Final this Saturday on redbullstreetstyle.com