Cesc Fábregas’ Recent Outbursts Raise Questions about His Leadership

Cesc Fábregas captaincy has taken on a different tone this season. An increasing petulance may be seen as an attempted evolution of his role or an unintended sign of frustration and waning faith in his club.

 

A recent piece by Dominic Fifield rightly takes a look at a string of recent confrontations and unsportsmanlike comments involving Cesc Fábregas. None have been scandalous, but the frequency, coming in the last three Arsenal matches, can’t help but raise questions.

First, there was the rugby indictment of Ipswitch following Arsenal’s 3—0 Carling Cup win. Five days later, in the FA Cup win over Huddersfield Town, it was reported that two Huddersfield players approached Fábregas for his jersey and instead of the traditional exchanging, Fábregas told the players to “fuck off”.  Finally, on the following Tuesday, against Everton, David Moyes accused Fábregas of a “disgusting” rant in the tunnel at halftime. Apparently in reference to the referee’s bad call, which lead to Everton’s first goal, it was reported that Fábregas indiscriminately shouted, “How much have you been paid?”

Fifield places these spats in the context of Fábregas’ confrontations over the years to sketch an emerging picture of an unlikable personality threatening to tarnish his and the club’s image. Three confrontations in as many games are peculiar, and searching for an explanation correctly looks to the history of the Spaniard’s outbursts to account for the frequency.

Before determining a dark streak runs through Fábregas, the frequent displays of petulance may be derived from other sources.

The three recent outbursts may be the most conspicuous displays of consistently subtle feistiness as a means to impose his presence. Far more than in seasons past, Fábregas has committed harsher fouls (the late tackle on Wolves' Stephen Ward) and been up in the faces of opposing players. On an opposition throw-in he’ll toss the ball to the side or on a free kick poke the ball away a little further than acceptable. In general, he’s far less warm on the field.

In these instances, is he trying to be an example of toughness, fearlessness, and disruptive irritant? There is an effort to impress his captaincy upon the team perhaps by answering the consistent claims that Arsenal’s is soft and fearful of physical and superior teams. Arsenal has been in desperate need for stronger leadership and perhaps Fábregas is responding to this. The effort may be misguided (undignified comments), double-edged (a hard tackle meant to impose, but one that comes off cynical) or miscalculated (conspicuous petulance as a form of leadership through communication). This last characterization is easy to confuse, since what Arsenal have lacked is intimidation.

Arséne Wenger recently commented that Jack Wilshere is under more pressure than Fábregas was at a similar stage in his career. Wilshere has the white-hot heat of a spotlight from playing professionally in the country of his birth. His emergence as both an Arsenal starter and England national pins a daily criticism and hope onto his shoulders. Playing professionally in England and part of an unprecedented crop of young Spanish internationals has spared Fábregas of the proximity and frequency that constitute the intensity of scrutiny.

But it can’t be forgotten that in November 2008, a 21-year old Fábregas was appointed captain of a new Arsenal team, one living in the shadow of past greatness of which many expect a quick return. In the intervening three years, Arsenal has yet to take the final step, seemingly mired in stalled development. With his commitment questioned following his near summer departure for Barcelona, he has much to prove, a difficult task compounded by an insistent hamstring injury. His commitment shouldn’t be questioned, and the form of his efforts to raise his club to champion gets tangled in frustration and immaturity.

But the most difficult task—one that may truly account for the unpalatable side effects—is being an effective 23-year old captain of a young team whose cultivation into champion has proven Herculean. No other captain is asked to do so much. He has been bestowed the honor leading one of the biggest clubs in the world, but has inherited his manager’s vision, one that is all horizon, laden with a heavy idealism and adherence to principle. Brilliant, but temperamental leaders throughout history have time and again come up against grand visions and fallen short.

 

2/6/11

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