Ganas: the miraculous comeback of Santi Cazorla

Joe Brennan, 19 June 2019

The unwritten rules about the tribalism of football are generally adhered to the world over.

They are militarily strict. Sacred colours and motifs cannot be altered and rivals must not be tolerated.

When the McDonald’s restaurant broke their traditions and removed the red from its famous logo outside the Leeds United stadium (associated with rivals Manchester United), the fan reaction was that of joy and that the morally correct thing had been done.

With this in mind, when a story passes through the news desk that is not compressed by or restricted to certain club colours, one that breaks down the barriers and lets everyone smile in unison, it should be considered a miracle.

Only the biggest raindrops make it to the ground from the sky in the same way that only the most miraculous of stories pass through the football grapevine unharmed and criticism-free. Sometimes, a feel-good story means nobody has to talk from behind a mask of pre-dictated colours.

Santi Cazorla’s return to football is one of those stories.

The injury

An innocuous knock against Chile while playing for Spain in September 2013 sent Cazorla to the head physiotherapist at Arsenal, a cracked bone in his ankle the diagnosis.

A year later, a knee ligament injury followed and Cazorla was in constant pain. Bacteria – missed in the doctoral examinations – had made its way up his leg and into the bone.

Santi kept playing until it was too much. In an interview with the BBC, Cazorla admitted that a Champions League tie against Ludogorets was the point where he was “no longer enjoying it” and “didn’t feel like playing at all.”

The long road to fitness

The Spaniard quickly decided an operation would be the best way forward, although later admitted, “At times, I’d be ready to give up. It’s hardest when you don’t see any improvement.”

Long days of rehab turned into weeks, and then months. Cazorla lay in hotel rooms in Vitoria and Salamanca, seemingly a world away from his wife and children in London.

One operation took 8cm out of his leg and the skin used to seal the incision came from his arm. The word ‘India’ – the name of his daughter – is now strewn out across his body. Santi said he is now “a jigsaw puzzle”, an unfortunate but understandable choice of words.

His new Achilles tendon is constructed from a piece of hamstring muscle and a metal plate resides in his heel.

Things got worse. Santi was told about the potential amputation of his leg. The message from the doctors was clear: forget football, and settle for walking in the garden.

Cazorla told Sid Lowe in an interview for the Guardian in 2018,“In the UK the doctors had decided I wasn’t ever going to play again.” But unbelievably, he did.

The miraculous comeback

After 10 operations and 636 days out of action, Santi Cazorla played his first game for Villarreal at the start of the 2018/19 season. A magician was used to announce his arrival but Cazorla’s body is where the real magic had taken place.

Villarreal survived a relegation-threatened season and it was largely down to Cazorla. He has been, objectively and unequivocally, their best player in a very tough season. In the 45 games he has played his year, he has scored seven and his smile has not faded once.

A goal against Madrid may have been the highlight. From hospital beds to his back garden to outplaying the European and World Champions, Santi has proven the impossible can be done and the world shares in his delight.

In every ground he has visited on the Yellow Submarine’s yellow bus, fans have queued for photos and sang his name, their respect for a Spanish legend crossing fan borders. Rivalries have been dismissed and forgotten. His body will never again be 100%, but his ganas – his hunger, his drive – definitely will be.

And so, on 17 May 2019, it fell to Luis Enrique to make the decision everyone thought could never happen again. Santi Cazorla, the man who has been through so much and was told on countless occasions that it was all over, was called up to represent his country after an astounding season in Spain.

He made the squad for friendlies against Sweden and the Faroe Islands, his first call-up since 2015. In the 4-1 win over the Faroe Islands, Cazorla even had the honour of pulling on the captain’s armband, claiming after the match that it was his ‘dream fulfilled.’

This was not a reward out of sympathy, but one of talent, and it demonstrated Cazorla’s never-ending desire to play again. This is a player whose story – and smile – touches us all.

Joe writes mainly about the Spanish game and spends his time between Leeds, Madrid and airport lounges.

By |2019-06-19T15:52:10+00:00June 19th, 2019|

Leave A Comment