Santi Cazorla: The great hope for Arsenal and the Premier League
It almost sounds like a broken record, Arsene Wenger facing questions over a transfer policy that has failed to add a single trophy in the past seven years and one that sees a high profile player exit the door every summer shouting “lack of ambition” at the top of his voice.
However, through overseeing the 5-2 dismantling of bitter rivals Spurs on Saturday, it became one of Wenger’s “I told you so” moments as he sometimes gets the opportunity to revel in, an afternoon to peel away from criticizing Wenger’s success-compromising financial caution in order to marvel at the football his side play that every once in a while becomes irresistible.
At the heart of the scintillating performance was Santi Cazorla, a 27-year-old Spanish midfielder signed from Malaga in the summer for a fee in the region of £12 million. Robin Van Persie was the ambition-seeking departure this summer, leaving for Manchester United for £24 million to the heart-break and anger of many supporters, but Wenger remained calm, taking advantage of financial uncertainty at Malaga enough to lure away Cazorla for half of the Van Persie fee. 12 games later and Cazorla is being referred to as the signing of the season, a Wenger “I told you so” moment as clear as any.
Perhaps there is even a feeling of guilt on Wenger’s behalf that he was able to steal in and prize Cazorla away for a price that Malaga coach Manuel Pelligrini describes as an “unspeakable gift”. Perhaps there is credit for Wenger in his willingness to realise the talent of a magical footballer that didn’t possess the largest of profiles in England before his remarkable impact on the Premier League.
This was a player who created 82 goal-scoring chances in Malaga’s Champions League qualifying campaign of last season, a player who was in Opta’s La Liga team of the season in the preceding campaign, yet Wenger managed to slip in unnoticed and pull off the most eye-catching of bargains.
It has been a remarkable impact, even surpassing the expectation of many aware of his talents before moving to England. Cazorla has scored 4 goals and provided a further 3 from his position at the tip of Wenger’s three-man midfield, his influence underlined by four man of the match displays and a passing percentage of 89% from his 12 matches so far. For a continental player alien to a league that is notoriously difficult to settle into, Cazorla has adapted his talent with seamless immediacy to show he is worth every inch of his 50 caps for Spain, a Spain that houses a magical generation of international dominance and one that suggests peerless talent just to be a part of it.
Cazorla, like Juan Mata and David Silva who also light up the Premier League with their majestic Iberian brilliance, joins the group of Spanish exiles who have avoided either juggernaut of Real Madrid or Barcelona in La Liga’s duopoly and have been forced to move elsewhere in a search for success.
Madrid, back in 2008, did try to sign Cazorla but were blocked by Villarreal and trouble with injury in the aftermath, a factor that caused him to miss the 2010 World Cup, saw their interest in the attacking midfielder disintegrate. His integral membership of Villarreal’s qualification for the Champions League in 2010-2011 saw Malaga’s big spending capture him for £16 million and the rest is recent history.
Marcelino Garcia Toral, his manager at Recreativo de Heulva, says of Cazorla: “I can’t believe Real Madrid or Barcelona didn’t sign him. It is a real pity for Spanish football.”
Maybe, again like Silva and Mata before him, Cazorla is another suggestion that the feeling that La Liga, with its sunny climbs and haven on income tax, being a more attractive proposition in Europe than the highly billed Premier League may be already on the slide.
The demands of domestic top flight football in England have definitely proved more attractive to Cazorla however, and Wenger is reaping the profits for a fee that is becoming more unbelievable with every startling performance. One only has to glance at the fortunes of Villarreal to see his peerless influence. From Champions League qualifiers in his last season, the Yellow Submarine were relegated in their first season without him. Malaga qualified for their place amongst Europe’s elite in their only season with him, too.
It is no doubting the quality Arsenal have now at their disposal as Spain’s loss also becomes England’s gain from a league point of view, an impact of undeniable brilliance right from the off as if he’s been here all along.
It promises to be a long and fruitful future for a Cazorla-driven Arsenal and just like Saturday after Emmanuel Adebayor’s brain cells drifted off to Neverland, it promises to be extremely easy on the eye and it also promises Wenger many chances to step back and say “I told you so”.