The Stain on Cesc Fábregas’ Shoulder

As Arsenal’s chronic illnesses return fully inflamed, the question of leadership points to the single deficiency of Cesc Fábregas.

Samir Nasri, the hot-headed Marseillais, is calmed by his captain after being tackled by Dani Alves.

There is some truth to the characterization that Cesc Fábregas may not be a natural captain. For the second time in as many months, his shortcoming has been the subject of an article. In the first, recent behavior unbefitting a captain is placed in the context of Fábregas’ career of periodic petulance. In the second, Fábregas represents a decade-long line of ineffective leadership reflective of a flaw in Arséne Wenger’s thinking. The role may have been handed to him, but there is no cover for what is considered Fábregas’ inability to rise to the occasion after almost three seasons in the role.

Puffed up statements that leadership is natural should be enough to confirm its emptiness. Yet, its criteria, age, experience, confidence, and communication and social skills, means that there is no reason it can’t be a learned capacity. While Fábregas’ tenure as captain may prove that he is not a natural leader, there is still plenty of time for him to become an effective one. Handed the armband at age 21 and now holding it for three seasons provides this opportunity to grow into the role. This is consistent with Wenger’s approach over the last few seasons. Like the team’s overall performance, a verdict may be taking shape, but is far from conclusive.

The previous four Arsenal captains were all much older than Fábregas. Tony Adams won the double twice after being named captain at age 31. Willaim Gallas was 30, Thierry Henri was 28, and Patrick Viera was 26 when they were named captain.

Fábregas’ recent behavior, unbecoming if true, could equally be a sign of growing pains as it is a defect in personality. The circumstances in which he has belabored would be difficult for any captain to display leadership skills that would make the difference between finishing third and finishing first. The team is young and has proven to be psychologically fragile. When a team is down, a captain can lift it, but when the team catastrophically collapses, the captain faces an almost insurmountable task.

Another difficulty—in truth something closer to a burden— is the system, and the principles supporting it. Wenger’s idealist philosophy and the unbending application of these ideas ask a lot of Fábregas. The responsibility is immense, and the effort put forth for the return to date has got be frustrating, if not disheartening. Channeling this frustration into tough exemplary leadership is bound to go awry and likely appear as a deficiency as long the unique and demanding circumstances are in place. Time is still on Fábregas’ side and it should not be taken from him just yet.

We know nothing of childhood; and with our mistaken notions the further we advance the further we go astray. The wisest writers devote themselves to what a man ought to know, without asking what a child is capable of learning. They are always looking for the man in the child, without considering what he is before he becomes a man. -Rousseau from Émile


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