MADRID (Reuters) – Spain and Barcelona centre back Gerard Pique has hailed Cesc Fabregas as a “pioneer” among players from the Iberian nation with the Chelsea midfielder poised to win his 100th cap for La Roja.
Fabregas, now 28, became one of Spain’s most successful exports when he left Barca aged 16 to join Arsenal and Pique said he had been a model for those who followed him to England.
Fabregas returned to Barca in 2011 before moving back to the Premier League to join Chelsea three years later and if he plays in Friday’s Euro 2016 Group C qualifier against Luxembourg and the match against Ukraine three days later he will reach 100 appearances for the national team.
Pique, also 28, was in Barca’s academy with Fabregas and moved to Manchester United in 2004 before going back to his boyhood club in 2008.
“Cesc was a pioneer in going to London at the age of 16,” Pique told Marca Radio on Wednesday.
“Later the rest of us went and he was an example for many,” he added.
“He is a winner. We have known each other since we were very young and if Cesc doesn’t win he might not talk to you for the whole day or won’t answer your calls.”
Fabregas made his Spain debut in a friendly against Ivory Coast in Valladolid in March 2006 and played a key role in the back-to-back European titles in 2008 and 2012 and the debut World Cup triumph in 2010.
His penalty to win the quarter-final shootout against Italy at Euro 2008 is widely seen as a turning point in Spain’s fortunes and they ended decades of underachievement by going on to beat Germany 1-0 in the final in Vienna.
“I would be thrilled to reach this milestone (100 caps), hopefully it will happen,” Fabregas told Marca Radio.
“When I went to London it was a big change but I was clear that my goal was to be a footballer,” he added. “I will always have a special affection for Arsenal.”
Spain can make sure of their place at Euro 2016 with a win against group minnows Luxembourg in Logrono.
Vicente del Bosque’s side have 21 points from their eight Group C matches, two ahead of Slovakia, who host Belarus on Friday. Ukraine are third on 16 points ahead of their match away to bottom side Macedonia.