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Page last updated at 12:54 GMT, Wednesday, 2 June 2010 13:54 UK

The one that got away

Cesc Fabregas and Lionel Messi
Fabregas could be reunited with his former Barca academy team-mate Messi

By Sam Sheringham

Rodolfo Borrell remembers exactly when Cesc Fabregas made his debut at the Barcelona academy. It was 11 November, 1997 and the future Arsenal captain was 10 years old.

Borrell is no statistical anorak; the occasion is etched in his memory because discovering Fabregas was the reward for hours and hours spent scouring local youth clubs for youngsters worthy of the famous blue and red shirt.

Fabregas had been playing for Mataro, a team based 35km north of Barcelona, but it was not until Borrell's third visit to the club that he unearthed his diamond.

"I went to see them play again and suddenly I saw this one player who was simply wonderful," recalls Borrell.

"They told me he was called Cesc Fabregas and he was one year younger than the rest. He was good at running with the ball, had a fantastic pass over short, medium and long distances.

"He was very mature for his age and had all the attributes we were looking for at Barcelona at that time.

"At half-time, I asked the coach why I had not seen this kid before. He admitted that, when he saw me coming, he had decided not to play him because he knew that if I saw him I would take him."

La Masia
Barcelona established La Masia as the headquarters of its academy in 1979

A deal was reached whereby Fabregas would play out the season with his club before joining the Barcelona academy at La Masia - a converted farm where the boys are housed and schooled in the philosophy of the Catalan giants, whose motto - "Mes que un club/More than a club" - proclaims the importance of the team to its region: .

The young Fabregas continued to live at home and go to school, but spent the rest of his time at La Masia, training, eating and studying at the famous institution which produced seven of the Barcelona side that won the treble of La Liga, Spanish Cup and Champions League in 2009.

Among his peers were current Barcelona centre-back Gerard Pique and a certain Lionel Messi, who was signed from Newell's Old Boys in Argentina as a 13-year-old and played with Fabregas for Borrell's under-14s.

With the likes of Messi on a fast track to the first team and fellow midfielders Xavi and Andres Iniesta starting to establish themselves, Fabregas sensed his opportunities would be limited at Barca and decided to take up the offer of a professional contract at Arsenal.

Having become the London side's youngest ever first-team player at 16 years, 177 days, Fabregas has since developed into one of the world's most complete midfielders.

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For Barca and their fans, he is the one who got away - and the club have made no secret of their desire to get him back.

Before the start of last season, Fabregas was asked about re-joining Barcelona and expressed his commitment to the Gunners.

However, there was one significant proviso. If Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola were to call him personally, Fabregas admitted "it would be different".

As a player, Guardiola was very much the prototype of the modern Spanish midfielder: technically-gifted, balanced and an immaculate passer of the ball.

He was at the heart of Johan Cruyff's all-conquering Barca side in the 1990s and was idolised by the young Fabregas as he made his way through the academy ranks.

Borrell, who has remained a friend and confidante to Fabregas, tells a story that encapsulates the connection between the Arsenal star and his one-time hero.

In 2001, when Fabregas was going through the pain of his parents' divorce, Borrell persuaded Guardiola to sign his famous number four shirt for the young protege. On it, he wrote: "One day, you will be the number four of Barcelona."

It seems that day may finally have arrived.



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see also
Arsenal reject Barca Fabregas bid
02 Jun 10 |  Arsenal
Fabregas inspired by Wenger talk
26 May 10 |  Arsenal
Fabregas keen to sort out future
14 May 10 |  Arsenal
Arsenal deny Fabregas summer sale
14 Apr 10 |  Arsenal
Barcelona 4-1 Arsenal (agg 6-3)
06 Apr 10 |  Europe
Arsenal 2-2 Barcelona
31 Mar 10 |  Europe
Fabregas pledges Arsenal loyalty
26 Jun 09 |  Arsenal


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