Henry sees superstardom beckoning for 18-year-old Fabregas, the 'old head' with the quick feet

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The Independent Online

He may still live in club digs in Barnet, sharing with Philippe Senderos and having his meals cooked by a landlady, but Cesc Fabregas was hailed as "amazing" following Arsenal's 2-0 Champions' League quarter-final first-leg victory over Juventus in which he eclipsed Patrick Vieira - and Brazil's Emerson.

Indeed Thierry Henry went so far as to bracket the 18-year-old alongside Wayne Rooney and Ronaldinho, a player with the potential of being a world-class performer. "There are not a lot of them like that. I just hope that he [Fabregas] has the same career but that's how it is when you are good," Henry said.

His verdict was all the more arresting because not only does the striker himself come into that élite category but his high praise of the Spanish midfielder, who so dominated the proceedings at Highbury on Tuesday, was unprompted.

"I said to so many people when I talk about Cesc that he is already old enough and you can see that in the way he plays," Henry said. "I just hope he can carry on like that for a long time. People were having a go at him at the start of the season because he wasn't playing that well. Then he plays well and he's a genius. Then a bad game and he isn't. Then he's a genius again. He has to cope with that.

"Some players, if you have a go at them, they drop," he added. "But Cesc can handle it. He is only 18 but he is old in the head."

Henry is not the only one to believe in Fabregas's ability to "handle it" and the performance, following on from his part in the elimination of Real Madrid, was further vindication of the manager Arsène Wenger's belief that the teenager was capable of filling the void left by Vieira's departure.

The former Arsenal captain had a wretched match - being booked he will be suspended for next week's return leg in Turin - and although Henry claimed he was pleased with the reception his friend received from the home fans, the truth was it was mixed. Vieira's name was chanted warmly before kick-off, but by the second half - after a series of uncompromising challenges - there was booing, albeit sporadic and far from universal.

This hostility may play as long in Henry's mind when it comes to agreeing a new contract at Arsenal as the "sporting ambition" he is demanding from the club and their progress in the Champions' League.

Henry is desperate to leave - if he does leave - on good terms and knows that is increasingly unlikely if he walks out on a burgeoning team. Furthermore, given his sensitivity, he would not want to be booed in the way Vieira was if he ever had to play against Arsenal. That may appear a slight concern but it's the kind of factor that would bother Henry, who admitted that the occasion affected Vieira.

"We had a good day and that maybe you could say he had a bad day," he said while warning that there was still a long way to go in the tie. "Even when we were 2-0 up I was still telling people to do the right job, not to get carried away because we were 2-0 against Juve, because a team like that can kill you in two minutes."

Henry said that his own performance was further evidence that his commitment could not be questioned. "That's why I was a bit vocal. As long as I can run I will try to go all the way."

Fabregas, having risen so quickly from the Barcelona youth team to the biggest stage, was careful to praise his former mentor. "It could not have been easy for Patrick to come back after nine years and be wearing a different shirt," he said. "It's difficult to be up against two players like that. Patrick is going to the World Cup with France and Emerson with Brazil. They are two of the best in the world."

Fabregas's chances of being in Germany this summer - having recently made his senior debut for Spain - have undoubtedly risen.

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