Q. How have you found the French league. If we talk about the football itself, has it been as you would expect, is it very different to the Premier League and the Spanish league?
Cesc Fàbregas. Yeah it is different. There is a lot of individual quality I would say. There are a lot of young players who they love to have an impact in the game. I think La Liga, Italy and the Premier League, tactically they worked for years before a little bit more, and I think they are maybe at a higher level. But here they are very strong, they are very fast, no one is afraid… they are all young players, they want to dribble you, they want to faze you, they want to go against you, they want to attack. And yes, that’s been positive to see to be honest, I’m enjoying the games, I’m enjoying the league, and I think it has so much potential because so many talents come out from this league, and I believe that the young players are very good.
Q. Has anybody caught your eye in particular, starting maybe at Monaco because there’s a lot of really good young players here?
CF. There are a lot of young players. You know the school at Monaco, we all know what it can bring and what it brought around all the big teams in Europe. I mean it’s fantastic, you know you cannot say only one, it’s difficult for me to say only one. In general I think from here… I now understand why so many clubs around Europe they come to Monaco especially, but also foreign teams from France, to bring them to their club.
Q. Just about Ligue 1, if we’re talking about the style. We interviewed Eden Hazard a while ago, and he - it might surprise a lot of people - he said: "For me Ligue 1 is even more physical than the Premier League". He said he got more bruises playing in Ligue 1. In England it’s very fast and blood and thunder in England. Have you found as well there is a lot of physical impact in France?
CF. Yes, I said before, a lot of strong, quick players, they are very physical, especially you know these teams in the mid-table. When we went to play in Angers, it was such a physical game. I mean the first half we found it really difficult. It’s true that in the second half we found our quality and we managed to make the difference on that. But games like this happen very often in France, so I agree.
Q. More about the French league in general. PSG are obviously very dominant, 20 points ahead. Is it good for the French game that we have this superpower, and is the problem more that the other teams aren’t following them. Or is it an issue for Ligue 1?
CF. Well for now I believe that they have too much quality for the rest of the teams. They have top players all over the pitch, starting from the goalkeeper, defenders, midfielders and attackers. They are the best team. No one can dispute that. But listen, this is football. They have to play. We have to play. All of us. The 20 teams, and as we saw two years and a half ago, Monaco became champions with also a great PSG team. So in football everyone has to play against each other. It’s 38 games. The one with more points wins the league. It’s as easy as that. But definitely they win more points because they are the best. But if we want to come back to the Champions League with this club we’ll need to compete nearly at the same level as them.
Q. They have a former Monaco player, Kylian Mbappé. He’s playing unbelievably well, 26 goals in the league already. As another precocious youngest, you came through at 16, even younger than he was… how do you rate this player, does he seem to have his head on his shoulders, and how far is he going to do?
CF. Every time I watch Mbappé I imagine myself behind him in every situation and I – because I can see he’s always on the move, with his body, on the right angle to make the run to get away from the defender – and I just try to analyse it and see it from the TV. Like when the midfielder has the ball he’s always looking to go in the space, and I just imagine, I speak with friends sometimes and I say ‘oh my god, if I had played with this guy I think I would have enjoyed a lot’. So yeah, he’s got plenty of talent. It’s just the beginning, I mean he’s still so young. He’s got so much to learn, so much to do in the game. If he continues from what I know and from what people tell me here, that he’s a humble boy, that he wants to learn, he listens, he likes to improve, he takes it very very seriously, discipline, if he keeps going like that the sky is the limit for him.
Q. Does that mean he can reach the level of a Messi or a Ronaldo?
CF. You never know, you never know. It’s very difficult to say, I mean he’ll have to prove it with numbers, with trophies. What these guys have done in the game over the last 14-15 years is unbelievable. For me it is difficult to imagine that we will see anything like that. Especially with Leo, because the talent that he’s got… I know I played with him since we are 13 years old and I’ve never seen anything like this. So for me it’s difficult to imagine, to believe that there will be another Lionel Messi… Cristiano’s mentalty is sensational. What he is doing in the Messi era is fantastic. Because his ambition to keep growing growing is great, the personality. But I believe I can see something in Mbappé similar, you know and at the early stages we are, he’s got the personality. Sometimes even the arrogance to have a go at everyone, at any defender. You know, to try new things. He’s not afraid. So that’s already a fantastic thing to have.
Q. Another star name in Ligue 1 is Mario Balotelli. Not so young. He’s had a lot of highs and lows already. But he’s a big name for the French game, he attracts a lot of attention, and he’s made a great start at Marseille. How do you judge the personality and will he be a big hit at Marseille?
CF. Yes I think so. I know Mario because we have done things together at Puma shootings, and with the brand. SO yes, I know him very well. He’s a very funny guy. He’s not as people see him. You can think that he’s arrogant, that he doesn’t take it seriously because this is the way he is… this is what he maybe shows to everyone. But inside, when you are outside of the pitch, when you talk to him he is just like a kid. He wants to play, he wants to have fun. But he loves football. That’s the most important, and I think that when his head is right and he’s really focused, he’s a top striker. So for sure, I mean he’s been already scoring goals. So for sure he’ll do well for Marseille.
Q. I just have one or two questions about you. When I was a younger journalist in London, I remember interviewing you briefly after a Champions League match, and I think you were 17….I saw this young, insouciant guy who just had this joy for his life. And I see that now. But I want to ask you, do you still see football the same, is it still just a great pleasure to be out on the pitch?
CF. Yes, definitely. I always say it, I say to my wife, I say to my friends, the day that this goes away, that’s the day that I will stop playing. Until then, I just can’t, because I know I will suffer a lot the day that I hang my boots, I will suffer because you‘ve been doing it for all your life. You said I started very young, you know you are used to playing many games, many competitions, playing with great players, and that’s what I love the most. Going out, get ready, go to training every single day. And the older you get, the more you want to enjoy. You want to train every day, you don’t want to miss it. If you have a knock or something, you still want to go out because you think ‘I don’t know how long I have got’. Whatever it is, four five years, three. You just want to enjoy it so so much. In this case, the ambition, everything I have inside, the fire is definitely still there.
Q. Your career and a little bit your life has been defined, or at least influenced, by a decision to move to London at a young age. How grateful looking back are you to Arsene Wenger, the role he played in your career, and the fact that he showed that faith in you at such a young age?
CF. It was vital. I was a lucky, a very lucky boy. I always said it. Yes, maybe they saw something in me that was good. After I had to show them really that I could be a player for Arsenal. But definitely he gave me the chance and I will always be grateful to the person that gives you the chance. Or you should be at least, because without the chance. You don’t become nothing. You are a journalist, I’m sure someone gave you a chance at one point, and then obviously you need to take it. But I was very young and even though I was doing well, you know sometimes there is this moment you could bring him out, or be a bit scared in a big game not to put him because whatever… He always felt comfortable and he always felt positive about me playing at any stage. 17 against Man United, the Community Shield, we go to Liverpool I play, we go to whatever I play since basically 16 years old, so I was playing bad sometimes, or not as good, and he still put me. He had faith in me. He just had faith. And I will always be grateful because I think in football probably he was the most important person that I’ve had.