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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Immature Cesc Fabregas cost Chelsea and himself in defeat to Burnley

Spanish midfielder is a senior figure at Stamford Bridge, and his behaviour that earned him a red card put him in poor light.

Cesc Fabregas reacts in shock after being sent off during Chelsea's Premier League defeat to Burnley at Stamford Bridge. Dan Mullan / Getty Images
Cesc Fabregas reacts in shock after being sent off during Chelsea's Premier League defeat to Burnley at Stamford Bridge. Dan Mullan / Getty Images

Cesc Fabregas was playing the 699th game of his career for club and country. There were still 74 minutes remaining when a free kick was given against him. He reacted by mockingly clapping the referee Craig Pawson. He was duly, unavoidably, booked. Did a footballer of such experience really think he would not be?

Even factoring in Jonjo Shelvey’s senseless stamp on Dele Alli, it ranked as the most idiotic decision of the Premier League weekend. Partly because Marco van Basten was being sent off for sarcastically applauding officials as long ago as the 1980s and punishment was certain. Partly because, with Tiemoue Bakayoko injured, Fabregas had an opportunity to impress and last season’s substitute had been propelled into a pivotal role again. Partly because, with 16 minutes gone, Chelsea were already down to 10 men against Burnley.

Fabregas later reduced them to nine. His incredulous reaction to his inevitable red card spoke of a refusal to accept authority or responsibility for his actions. It formed a contrast with Gary Cahill, also rightly dismissed, but who displayed the humility of one who realised he had erred. Fabregas’ lunge at Jack Cork was worthy of a yellow card. As he has got slower, he has lunged in more. As Chelsea had a player fewer, the others had more ground to cover, making it likelier again that Fabregas would have to overstretch. The most predictable of departures was created by his own stupidity.

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It highlighted that there are two Fabregases. There is the man who speaks wonderfully eloquently, who was appointed Arsenal captain at just 21 and who offers the right sort of leadership. He is the midfielder who can unlock defences with vision and precision, the footballer who, when demoted last season, reinvented himself as a dedicated, deluxe squad man. He only started 13 league games and recorded 12 assists, the fourth most in the division. This Fabregas is an admirable, sympathetic character.

Then there is the other Fabregas, the figure seen against Burnley, the one who seems to immature with age. He has always had a snide side – indeed, he is thought to be the player who threw pizza at Alex Ferguson in 2004 – but it has become more apparent. He had only been sent off once before joining Chelsea. He has seen red three times since, always in strange, self-destructive episodes. He was dismissed at West Brom after the 2015 title had been won for booting the ball petulantly at the referee, instead hitting Chris Brunt.

Watch Fabregas boot the ball

He was expelled in a 2016 pre-season friendly – an achievement in itself – for a dangerous tackle on Liverpool’s Ragnar Klavan. The trend is that Fabregas behaves stroppily and blames the officials for enforcing the laws.

This Fabregas has a capacity to alienate in needless fashion. He does not need neutrals’ approval, though he risks colouring judgments of a player purists should love. He does not seem to show a lack of thought, Shelvey-style, as much as the wrong thought process, leading to warped decisions.

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On Saturday, he was utterly unprofessional in a manner that suggested Chelsea ought to fine him. It is not Fabregas’ fault that Chelsea left themselves undermanned in midfield by selling Nemanja Matic and Nathaniel Chalobah and loaning out Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Kasey Palmer, Lewis Baker, Marko van Ginkel and Mario Pasalic but, when they did, he assumed an extra importance. A senior figure should have responded accordingly. Instead, with Bakayoko out, Fabregas’ suspension means Antonio Conte will be scrabbling around to find a partner for N’Golo Kante for a potentially season-defining game against Tottenham.

Perhaps it will compel Chelsea to buy, perhaps Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Danny Drinkwater, perhaps their plight will allow sellers to raise their price. Certainly it will deny Fabregas a chance to stake a case for a place when everyone is available. He has cost Chelsea and he has cost himself. All of which prompts the question of why, at 30, Fabregas adopts the persona of the sulky teenager ever more often.

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