- How former Arsenal ace Cazorla resurrected his career at Villarreal after injury nightmare09:17 | 05/10/2019
The Spaniard was told he would be lucky to walk again after being hit with an infection that ate into his Achilles tendon but is now back to his best.
Photo by Getty Images
Santi Cazorla went 636 days without playing a football match.
After complications arising from an Achilles injury that reached an excruciating crescendo in October 2016, the then Arsenal midfielder was given a grim prognosis by doctors.
“They told me, ‘If you get to walk again with your son in the garden, be satisfied,” Cazorla told MARCA last year.
“[They] saw that I had a tremendous infection, that I had damaged part of the calcaneus bone and it had eaten the Achilles tendon. There was eight centimetres of it missing!”
After requiring 10 operations and a skin graft that used tissue on the forearm that bore his daughter’s name, Cazorla would have been forgiven for hanging up his boots.
But a man that rarely plays the beautiful game without a smile on his face was never going to let his career end in such depressing fashion.
Instead, Cazorla fought tooth and nail for nearly two years – saying goodbye to the Emirates in the process – in order to return to the pitch.
“I always felt the support of everyone from Arsenal: if there’s something I’ve taken away from there above all else, it’s the fans’ affection,” Cazorla said in 2019.
“The thorn in my side, the regret, is not having been able to say goodbye on the field, the way I’d have liked.”
He then spent pre-season with former club Villarreal and when he played his first game in 636 days, coming on as a replacement in a friendly against Heracles, he received a standing ovation from everyone present.
Villarreal promptly signed Cazorla for a third time and while his second return to El Madrigal may have been laced with sentiment, this was no act of charity.
Both the club and the player believed he was ready to return to top-flight football. They weren’t wrong.
Still boasting a sublime touch and impressive vision, Cazorla rolled back the years with a string of midfield masterclasses last season and ended the 2018-19 campaign with four goals and 10 assists to his name.
Impressive displays during Villarreal’s run to the quarter-finals of the Europa League, combined with his consistent Liga form, saw Cazorla named the club’s player of the season.
Even more remarkably, he earned a Spain recall in May and made his first international appearance for 1302 days when he started in a 4-1 win over Faroe Islands the following month.
“Playing a single game at a top level was a very long way off, so imagine the national team… Unthinkable,” Cazorla enthused.
“This was difficult for me to take in, so unexpected after everything I’d been through.
“Now I take it as a new challenge, a new hope. I’m here for purely sporting reasons. They said that to me, ‘It’s what you bring.’
“Maybe it’s more special in my case, because of the injury, but that’s not the reason I’m here, although it could be an example for players my age – don’t give up.
“There have been all sorts of moments, times you consider throwing in the towel, but I knew it was a long run and if I didn’t make it, I didn’t want to blame myself or think I could have done more.”
From the sidelines to the headlines, the Spaniard, who turned 34 last December, has turned tragedy into triumph and he’s showing no signs of slowing down.
This season, he’s picked up where he left off term, racking up four goals and three assists in just seven Liga outings.
Indeed, having found the back of the net in his past three games, Cazorla is arguably in even better form in 2019-20, with his stunning long-range strike against Barcelona in late September reminding the world he’s still capable of shining on the game’s grandest stages.
For a man that was close to never walking again, this a revival that should inspire any footballer that ever finds himself in the treatment room wondering if he has the strength to fight on.
Cazorla’s comeback is one of the game’s great fairy tales.
Source – Goal.com
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