There is something special happening at Como. The football club there has not always been as glamourous as its location but the lake is no longer the only thing attracting the stars. Como 1907 is a club with grand ambitions with Cesc Fabregas at the centre.
The World Cup-winning midfielder began his coaching journey in the summer following his retirement as a player, beginning with the youth team and having a brief spell as interim manager before settling into his current role as first-team coach.
Fabregas is an investor alongside Thierry Henry, while Dennis Wise is club president. There are plans for a new stadium and few expect their time in Serie B to last long. If and when Como do reach Italy’s top division, that could prove to be just the start.
Fabregas is certainly not here to relax by the lake.
In fact, the hard work has just begun.
“This is a proper job,” he tells Sky Sports.
Arriving at the training ground at 7.30am, he is often still there at 8.30pm. “I had never done that before. This is different for me. I hardly see my family. But the passion and excitement that this job gives to me is close to how it felt on Champions League nights.”
Although the move into coaching had always been his vision, the plan had been to play for two seasons. That changed when priorities changed. “I was not enjoying it anymore,” he explains. “I decided to go for something that was exciting me and that was coaching.”
At Como, he does not feel as if he is coaching for coaching’s sake either. This is a club imbued with great purpose. There is a project in place, an ambitious idea that Como can become a force in Italian football. That prospect has captured the imagination of Fabregas.
“It is something that brings more fire inside of the belly because this is a project where there are so many wins, not only on the pitch. There are so many things we want to do. We are trying to grow. The people taking care of the club are so ambitious.
“We just moved to a new training ground. We want to improve it to make the players as comfortable as possible. It is very exciting because the stadium is a big part of the project too. We are looking at the best stadiums in the world to see what we can do here.”
Wise, the former Chelsea and England midfielder, has been instrumental. “Dennis started from the beginning. He has grown the club so much. He did it at the beginning with very little resources. If I am here, it is because he brought me to the club.”
Arsenal legend Henry is taking a keen interest. Fabregas enjoys a special relationship with him. “I know I can speak to him any time. He is a role model for me. He made me a better player because every pass I gave him, he converted it into something special.”
But Fabregas’ role is more hands-on than his former team-mate. He took over as interim manager in November and is now first-team coach following the arrival of Welshman Osian Roberts in December. Fabregas, the coach, is demanding. “I love perfection.”
But the biggest demands are on himself. “My family know how I can be. I am stubborn. I put the blame on myself for everything.”
He admits that this attitude impacted his life as a player. “I already lost so much enjoyment during my playing career. Even winning the World Cup and the Euros, you enjoy for a day and then start thinking about what is next. You never really enjoy anything.”
He wants to soak up any success as a coach but it is difficult to change one’s nature. Post-match analysis sessions are lengthy. “I spend two hours talking with staff about what we could have done differently. Even when you win you have to analyse yourself.”
Family life for Fabregas
From Barcelona to London and back, from Monaco to Como, it has been an adventure for Fabregas. “I am very fortunate with the places where football has taken me. My kids have been raised in beautiful places. My family are super happy.”
Among them there is stepdaughter Maria Taktouk, now a singer-songwriter who has just released her debut single Shadow and is nearing one million followers on Instagram. “My mom has a really special way of making every new country feel like home so moving was exciting,” she tells Sky Sports.
“Meeting new people, seeing new things. It is really cool.”
She has followed her stepfather’s coaching journey too.
“I still remember the first moment I saw him studying to be a coach. This is six or seven years ago. To see it finally coming to life is just amazing. With every win, it is just more motivation for him to get the next. It inspires me and all of my siblings.”
In a sense, this was always in him. He used to take notes even during his playing days. “More about man-management,” he explains. “In the dressing room, players talk. We are big mouths. We like this but we do not like that. I was always interested.”
But the pandemic was the catalyst to taking the next step. “In those months at home, even though I enjoyed the time with family, I spent a lot of time on zoom calls with coaches, analysts. I started my B Licence, moved to the A Licence, and I really liked it.”
He spent some time at Arsenal’s training ground. “Getting the vibes of what it was.” That only whet the appetite further. “I was enjoying it more and more until I had more passion for coaching than playing football. I decided to follow my dreams in another way.”
His influences are eclectic. After beginning his career under Arsene Wenger at Arsenal and going on to play in Pep Guardiola’s brilliant Barcelona team, Fabregas went on to win Premier League titles under Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte at Chelsea.
“I have had many coaches who I have loved working for and there were some that I did not really understand at the beginning. But I came to realise that there is always a winning formula behind it that I did not really believe. For example, with Conte.
“With Mourinho, in my younger years I never thought I could play for one of his teams – but I did and I enjoyed it and had one of the best years of my career. Obviously, Arsene Wenger and Guardiola were coaches I was more sure were into my DNA of playing.”
Thierry Henry on Como involvement
Why get involved at Como?
“Everything. The location. Where the club aspired to go. Everyone involved wants the club to be known as much as the lake. We must ensure we do not lose the community and family factor. Everyone always has a go at Man City but that is something they do really well.
“I even like the shirt. Because it is a new era, everything has to look cool. You want to wear it. The stadium is cool. The training ground is cool. The town is already cool. If the club could be known how the town is known around the world then that would be magnificent.”
Thoughts on Cesc Fabregas?
“I was always an admirer of Cesc and how he sees the game. We can talk about his vision, we can talk about his understanding, we can talk about how clever he was on the field. He became the captain of Arsenal at a young age. I am not surprised where he is.”
Are you a mentor to him?
“Not at all. I don’t see it like that. I am always there for him but I do not see myself as a mentor. I know he has ideas about the game. We have discussions. My way of seeing the game is the same way as Cesc’s way of seeing the game.”
What are your ambitions for Como?
“We are trying to step out of Serie B with an idea, with plans for the new stadium. If we manage to do that this year then the future looks bright.”
So, what does a Fabregas team look like? The setting near Lake Como might be idyllic but this is the second tier of Italian football and there has to be an element of pragmatism to the approach. The boy from La Masia is having to be patient as well as demanding.
It is a lesson that he learned from Wenger, the man who gave him his debut. “He told me when I was young that if you want to build a house you start with the foundations. You need a strong base to follow up the process and go to where you want to go,” he says.
“As a coach, you have to be a little bit smart and understand the players that you have. This squad was not built by me. Mentally, it was the opposite to how I wanted it. I have to make the changes in an intelligent way. Adapting to what I have and doing it slowly.
“They were playing a 5-3-2 and quite deep. That is not something I enjoy as a coach. I suffer when I see my team so deep, playing long ball and losing it again and again. So we just changed a little bit now. We have moved to a back four, much higher up the pitch.
“You can be more aggressive. We defend the spaces not the man. This team was used to defending man-to-man. The problem is that when they are better than you and they are physically quicker and stronger than you, you can have lots of problems.
“We try to play close to one another to attract the pressure and then attack in behind. The team was just playing long and losing second balls. When making passes of six or seven metres, it is easier to connect than when you are making passes of 20 or 25 metres.”
What do the players say about Fabregas?
What do the players say about Fabregas?
“Cesc is something special. He has won everything in football. To be able to learn from him is a great experience for us all.” – Niko Ioannou
“I have watched him since I was six years old. To go from watching him, to playing with him and then to him being the manager is like a crazy full circle.” – Liam Kerrigan
“When I signed for Como, he signed one week after. I was like, ‘Wow, Cesc Fabregas is coming to Como, what a project.’ When I met him, he was a really humble, normal guy.” – Cas Odenthal
There are few better to teach that than Fabregas. “I always talk about the space, the time and the posture. These three things are very important. I always talk about the first two steps when you can get away from the man. It is difficult to stop.
“The most important thing in football is to know your next pass.
“You need to know it before it comes to you. It is the most difficult thing in football. Some of the players I am coaching are good players but do not know what they will do afterwards. They need two seconds. That is difficult because you do not have a lot of time.”
The devil is in the detail.
“We have data on every single player we play against so we have triggers of where to attack. By attracting and attracting, if they come man-to-man, they will always have to decide. Roberto De Zerbi does this well. He teases them. Are you going to come with me?”
De Zerbi is someone whose work he studies.
“I study other coaches. Not the coaches themselves but their philosophies. I am just at the beginning and do not pretend I know everything. At the moment, De Zerbi, Guardiola and Mikel Arteta are the three I follow in the Premier League and get most ideas from.”
His impressive language skills are helping too. “There are foreigners who I speak to in English. Obviously, there are Italians. There are two guys that we speak to in French. There is a Spanish boy.” He can even claim to speak some Arabic through his Lebanese wife.
The results are encouraging. A 4-0 win over Spezia last time out extended Como’s run to just one defeat in 11 and moved them up into second spot in the Serie B table before Venezia claimed it back the following day. Momentum appears to be with them now.
Como have been in Serie A before but never for long and not for over 20 years. This club has spent more of its 117-year history outside the top divisions than inside them. And yet, something is stirring. Four points off top, promotion is a real possibility.
Even if that does not come this season, the trajectory is obvious. This club is planning for bigger things. “We want to create a strong base for when the time comes to push. Without this work, it is impossible to win at the weekend,” Fabregas explains.
“We have been fortunate that results are in our favour. This helps. But we need to keep growing. We want to get better and better. This is my mentality and the club shares those values. It is very exciting. We are a long way from where we want to get to.”
That is true of Como. And the ever driven Cesc Fabregas.
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