Cesc Fabregas is proud to have proved Antonio Conte wrong and feels fit and fresh enough to go on playing for Chelsea for years.
This time last season, Fabregas had started only four competitive games for his club’s Italian manager but has since forced Conte to change his mind.
This season, only two outfield players — Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso — have played more minutes for Chelsea and Fabregas has made a strong case for a new deal when his contract expires in 18 months.
Cesc Fabregas hopes to fulfil his long-awaited dream of Champions League glory with Chelsea
Fabregas said, “I would be lying if said I wasn’t worried. Maybe worried is not the right word but you can imagine, I wasn’t playing and not really part of his initial plans.”
“At that point you can do one of two things, just give up and accept you’re not part of the team or the club in the future or what I did — put your head down, be humble, work hard and train hard every day, and show him that he’s wrong and that he can trust me to play in this team.”
“Every time I had an opportunity I gave my all, I delivered and from then on we started to create a relationship.”
“Now I can say our relationship is fantastic. I understand his philosophy and must say I am very proud of this and also very happy I am where I want to be and that’s all down to belief and trust and hard work.”
Fabregas revealed he had to adapt to Conte’s method and philosophy in training and be fitter, work harder and adapt defensively to a new role.
“That’s what I did,’ said the 30-year-old. ‘Physically, I feel, not better than ever because it’s been many years and don’t remember exactly, but the fittest I’ve been in the last few years.”
“At the beginning of last season, the boss never trusted me in every game in a 3-4-3 system and now he does.”
“You never stop learning in football and that’s what I’m doing. I’m learning a lot. Very proud, very happy and hopefully it’s not the end. There is much more to come.”
“I am only 30. What is that? It is nothing, I’m very young. I really mean it, especially the way I play, in my position, you can go for many more years, I can tell you many cases.”
“I have a year left, but let’s see what happens. I’m where I want to be, enjoying my football, playing week in and week out and I want to enjoy that. When the moment comes to talk I’ll be here, ready for it.”
Conte applauded Fabregas’s commitment and ‘behaviour’ and agreed that the midfielder has the desire and the will to continue into his mid-30s at the top level — despite Chelsea’s strict policy of giving only one-year contract extensions to all players aged over 30.
“Cesc has great ambition,’ said Conte. ‘He’s a winner in his mind. In football, the past is very important but the past is not everything. The present is more important than the past.”
Chelsea are preparing for today’s game against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League, the one major trophy to have eluded Fabregas in a long and glittering career.
The closest he came to winning it was when he was in the Arsenal side who lost 2-1 to Barcelona in the 2006 final.
Chelsea are already booked into the knockout stage but can win Group C and so secure top-seeding in Monday’s draw for the last 16 by beating Atletico.
Fabregas said, “The objective has been reached, to qualify, but we won’t relax. We want to be first in the group.”
“It is a difficult competition and it would be fantastic if I can get it.”
“I reached a few semi-finals and lost a final in a cruel way but it’s a competition where you need to be lucky, consistent and strong and hopefully it can be Chelsea’s year. We will try our best to reach the final and win.”
Atletico, twice runners-up in the past four years, must win at Stamford Bridge and hope Roma drop points against Qarabag to avoid an early exit.