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Santi Cazorla: The footballer who defied the odds to rise again

SENIOR ANALYST
Feature
898   //    20 May 2019, 14:24 IST

Santi Cazorla made a miraculous return to professional football in 2018
Santi Cazorla made a miraculous return to professional football in 2018

On the 19th of October, 2016, Arsenal battled Ludogorets at the Emirates Stadium in the UEFA Champions League and like many a time before, Santi Cazorla pulled the strings in an emphatic victory. However, in the process of laying on a sizzling assist for Mesut Ozil, he injured himself and walked off to rapturous applause. 

The terraces sang his name with gusto and hoped to enjoy more of the midfielder’s genius further down the road. Yet, unfortunately, it proved to be the last time the gifted Spaniard walked into the Emirates sunset as a Gunner. 

Initially thought of as a niggling injury, the damaged Achilles tendon started playing tricks and resisted all forms of rehabilitation. The injury also ended up opening a can of other worms (literally too) when his foot got infected with gangrene in addition to the resurfacing of the ankle problem he endured in 2013. 

Inevitably, the Spaniard had to go under the knife and went into surgery an alarming 11 times during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 season. Each operation began with an air of optimism yet as time passed, it represented a familiar pattern of Cazorla having to suffer more pain.

The infection he had contracted eventually led to a part of his forearm skin (which bears a tattoo of his daughter’s name) being used to patch up the astonishing 10 cm gap that had opened up near the ruptured tendon. He was also told that if a solution couldn’t be arrived at soon, he might have to lose the affected leg forever.

At that juncture, one would’ve forgiven the midfielder to believe that his time as a professional footballer had come to an abrupt end. 

In fact, the situation had worsened to such an extent that doctors told Cazorla that he should consider himself lucky to be strolling around in his garden, let alone play football. Only a handful of people believed he could make a proper recovery and enjoy the intricacies of life sans football.

Fortunately, though, the Spaniard was one of those who did and despite all the odds stacked against him, he rose like a phoenix to find himself at the pinnacle again.

The 2018 off-season saw the midfielder train with the Alaves youth setup in order to prove his fitness and take the first step on his obstacle-filled road to recovery. The stint went well and he soon found himself turning out for Villarreal, the club he had originally made his name with.

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A few friendlies later, the Yellow Submarine, convinced of the spark Cazorla could provide, handed him a contract on the 9th of August, 2018. And through sheer belief and perseverance, the Spaniard was finally back among the country’s elite.     

The 2018-19 season saw the re-birth of Santi and he ensured he reminded the whole world what he is capable of. The 34-year-old played more than 30 league games and racked up 10 assists to supplement the 4 goals he scored.

Cazorla won the battle against a career-threatening injury
Cazorla won the battle against a career-threatening injury

However, the midfielder gracing one of the world’s best leagues on a regular basis was a victory in itself, irrespective of the incredible numbers he conjured. 

Over the years, the world has seen several instances of footballers falling by the wayside after career-threatening injuries derailed their journey. Yet, in Cazorla, the footballing fraternity now has someone to take inspiration from. He didn’t just clash swords with a seriously impeding injury and come out on top, he also looked at it straight in the eye and changed the outcome through his superhuman willpower.  

Thus, it was only fitting that the Spaniard was called up to the Spanish squad after a superlative season. A season where he miraculously rose from the ashes and highlighted that fairy tales do exist in football, sometimes.

As the 2018-19 term draws to a close, Cazorla is preparing to don the famous Red of Spain again. An image which not only seemed improbable but impossible till a year back.

Yet, the Villarreal man, despite the darkness that had engulfed him, proceeded towards the faint light at the end of the tunnel. And that facet, above everything else, is what the world would come to remember of the Spaniard once he’s voluntarily hung up his boots. 

After all, Cazorla has taught everyone that life is indeed not about how hard one can hit but about how hard one can get hit and keep moving forward.       

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