It seems quite appropriate that Cesc Fabregas is creating such a huge impression with the Athens Olympics as a backdrop.

Over the years the Olympics has thrown forward some truly remarkable teenagers. Cassius Clay (1960), Olga Korbet (1976), Ronaldo (1996) Ian Thorpe (2000) and, most recently Michael Phelps, to name but five. At Arsenal, 17 year-old Cesc has started season 2004/05 like he means to carve out a career at Highbury that will ensure he is remembered long after his playing days are over for the Gunners.

Cesc's precocious displays in central midfield combined the necessary steel required for the 'engine room'; clean, crisp passing; an attacking eye and the maturity associated with a player many years his senior.

For the first matchday programme of the season, it seemed appropriate that we caught up with the young Spaniard to find out just how much he's been enjoying his first-team elevation.

"I can't believe it really," says Cesc, in excellent English. "I am only 17 years-old and I don't think anyone in my position would be able to believe it.

"I am working very hard every day and I think at the moment I am playing well, but tomorrow you never know. I am aware that as a very young player I may not be good every game, I have to become very consistent, but I am working very hard at my game."

An excellent attitude is allied to Cesc's obvious skills, but he understands that no matter how talented a 17 year-old he is, it's still an act of faith to throw such a young player into the bear-pit of a Premiership midfield.

"Because Patrick Vieira has an injury and Edu has been away all summer I have got my chance," says the youngster from Catalonia, "but I do think I have to say thankyou very much to the Boss because it must be hard to have confidence in a player so young, but he has been confident in me.

"I couldn't have imagined eight weeks ago that I could be playing against Manchester United in the Community Shield, in front of so many people. Fantastic."

So did the Boss prime Cesc for first-team action during pre-season?

"Not really, he didn't speak to me over the summer, I was just doing as good as I could in pre-season. I played in a lot of the matches in pre-season and thought I did well. I think maybe the point I knew I was doing well was when the Boss said to me that I had a new number 15, and that I was part of the first-team squad. I was very happy.

"Then," continues Cesc, "when he said to me, you are starting against Manchester United, it was a strange sensation, because I really couldn't believe it, but after a while I was happy and able to think about how I could do my best."

Cesc may not be a strapping six-footer, like so many of the Gunners finely honed athletes, but he cuts a surprisingly strong figure for one so young and the pre-season training has visibly helped to thicken-out the young Spaniard. He says himself that he got "so much stronger" under Fitness Coach Tony Colbert's pre-season regime. But when it came to Cesc's Premiership debut, it's the power of the mind that he refers to:

"Against Everton I was concentrating so hard," he says. "They are a very strong side and I knew it would be difficult, especially when it's your Premiership debut so I was concentrating on doing my very best.

"Once the game started though it was just a game of football and any nerves went away. And it was so good to have great players around me. When I had the ball I knew Dennis Bergkamp would be there for me to make a pass to and the same with players like Gilberto and Thierry too, everyone is so helpful. And of course it is great to have Jose Antonio there to help me too."

Jose Antonio Reyes may be three years Cesc's senior but he's still a young man himself and part of a group of very exciting youngsters at the Club which also includes Robin van Persie, Gael Clichy, Jermaine Pennant, Teremie Aliadiere and Justin Hoyte. Cesc's well aware of the next generation fighting for first-team football

"We have a very good group of young players and I think we try and do our very best to put a difficult question to the Boss," he says. "When he picks the team we want it to be hard to leave us out even if all of the senior players are fit. We have to keep pushing like that. I think this competition is good for everybody in the squad though, young and old."

Cesc's assured performance against Everton was almost marked by a goal - it took a great save from Nigel Martyn when Cesc himself admitted he, "thought it was in" when he struck the ball. But as the youngster's career develops we are unlikely to have to wait too long for a goal, after all he was top scorer in last years Under -17 World Championships (he was also Player of the Tournament).

"When I played in Barcelona or when I play for the national team I play in a more offensive midfield role," explains Cesc. "But I like the role I have been playing here, working hard and tackling. It's very good for me because now I can play forward and defend too. This is good for a midfielder because you want to develop into a complete player."

And if he scores this afternoon, he will break Stewart Robson's 22 year record for the Gunners youngest ever league goalscorer, to go alongside his youngest ever player and youngest ever goalscorer, both achieved in the Carling Cup last season against Rotherham and Wolves respectively. And of course he is now our youngest ever Premiership player, following events at Goodison Park (beating Gavin McGowan's record from 1993). But he's not getting carried away by the record-breaking.

"These records are things that I can't believe now really," he shrugs. "Maybe sometime when I am older I will look back and think that I did well to do things so young, but for the moment all I think about is working hard every day and to push my game forward."

The youngster took another bow on Tuesday night when he made his debut for Spain Under-21s against France.

"I played all of the second-half in midfield and I enjoyed it," says Cesc. "It was another debut for me, because I had not played for them before. I couldn't believe I was called up to be honest, I thought I may still be in the Under-18s but it was good for me.
"They have a very good team with players like Andres Iniesta who's in Barcelona's first-team and then there are others who are regulars in their first-teams like Sergio Garcia (Levante) and Xabier Prieto (Real Sociedad) I am young to be in the squad, but I think I can play okay at that level. I will certainly try."

Finally, there has been one other remarkable facet to Cesc Fabregas, but unfortunately it is no longer with us. Speaking to Cesc on Thursday, it would have been amiss not to have asked him just how long was he planning to grow his hair?! Unfortunately, those keen to witness his flowing mane this afternoon look likely to be disappointed.

"Tomorrow (Friday) I am getting it cut!" He laughs. "I have an appointment at the hairdressers. I have had it like this for a couple of months and I am a bit bored of it, I need a change!"

After a sensational start to his Gunners career, it looks unlikely Cesc is going to be, 'hair today, gone tomorrow'.

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20 Aug 2004