Whenever someone mentions Santi Cazorla return in conversation, the reaction is always the same. It’s a positive, heartfelt appreciation of a player that gave his all and did so with a smile.
I’m going to irritate some diehard Ozil fans but given the choice of the World Cup-winning playmaker or the creative Spanish wizard, Ozil would be confined to bench-warming duties for the foreseeable future.
So, when I first heard that Cazorla wanted to return to his North London home, I was excited to the point of spontaneous combustion. It’s on a par with Henry and Bergkamp coming home in some capacity.
Part of me hoped it would be as a player, part of me as a coach, or both. Cazorla is a unique talent and someone that could benefit Arsenal’s cause even if he was only available for 15 matches over an entire season.
The 35-year-old, who left Arsenal after a serious injury, was thought to be unable to play at the highest level but he stunned everyone with his performances for Villarreal, scoring 12 goals and adding seven assists in 29 appearances for his club. That form saw Cazorla return to the Spanish national side and showed what a monumental blunder the Gunners made by not allowing him more time.
It was a horrific Achilles injury, sustained in 2016 during a Champions League match with PFC Ludogorets. It resulted in numerous operations, a deep-rooted infection (gangrene), and the loss of 8 centimetres of his tendon.
Now with retirement looming and his contract due to end, Cazorla has made a decision on his future but he remains tight-lipped. He told Cadena SER via Tribal Football:
“I have already made my decision, but right now is not the time to say anything. I have an idea of what I want, but in due course I will reveal what I’ve decided. Now is not the time because we have to be focused on competing.”
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He went on:
“[The season suspension] has helped me think, listen to my body, but I do not want to pre-empt you or to speculate too much.”
“I have an idea but when the time comes I will communicate it and give the explanations. Now we have to be focused.”
The body reference sounds like retirement to me, but if only he could be convinced to play on for one last fabulous season. The player and fans could indulge in the type of farewell that they were denied when Arsenal cast him aside in 2018. Then he could settle into a coaching role by Arteta’s side, that would be perfect.