Many are already hailing the Santi Cazorla signing as the deal of the summer, but what a saga it has been. Don’t get me wrong – I am quite excited to see him don the red and white like every other gooner this season. He’s long been hailed the best player outside the La Liga duopoly of that club and that other club by Spanish fans and will somewhat fit into the Cesc shaped hole left in our squad since the summer of 2011. That’s how special of a player he is.
Cazorla started his professional career at his local club Real Oviedo before joining Villarreal months before turning 18. He worked up the reserves side at the club and made his first team debut for the side in November 2003. The following season, he joined newly promoted Recreativo on loan and pulled the side to a historic 8th placed finish in La Liga. He was proclaimed the Spanish player of the year 2007 by Don Balón after his brilliant performances that season. His return to Villareal the following season saw him help the club place 2nd place in La Liga ahead of Catalan giants Barcelona (07-08). When Real Madrid approached him for his signature in August 2008, he publicly rejected their advances:
“There are many other things in football besides Real Madrid. It’s clear that it is possible to say “no” to them. There is no doubt that they are a great team, but I also feel very satisfied and valued at my club. I hope I can continue growing at Villarreal because I am young and I’m only starting off with the national team.” (HITC)
However, when newly rich Málaga came calling in the summer of 2011, Villarreal found it difficult to turn down the €21M they offered for his services. Villarreal had to compensate for the huge debt they had accumulated and the Spaniard was seen as a more expendable asset than the club’s other star player, Giuseppe Rossi. This was also a record signing for Málaga and by far the biggest deal of the 10 signings they made that summer.
Senna, Villarreal’s captain, compared his departure to that of Villarreal’s finger being cut off. But it was worse than that. The departure of Cazorla ripped out Villarreal’s heart and sent them to the 2nd Division at the end of the 2010-2011 season. They felt the blow even harder when he helped Málaga qualify for the Champions League the following season. Despite this, Cazorla wanted out of the club. Player wages went unpaid during the campaign and promises made by their new owners and management were broken. Cazorla was one of four players (van Nistelrooy, Rondon and Mathijsen the others) who threatened to make a formal complaint against Málaga to the Spanish FA in July.
When Arsenal showed an interest in the crafty midfielder earlier in the summer, Cazorla consulted former Gunners Robert Pires and Cesc Fàbregas over the transfer and was encouraged by what he heard.
“Robert played with me at Villarreal. He knew about the rumours of me coming here and always encouraged me to sign,” he said. “He told me it was a very good club and I was going to enjoy London, the city, and the move.
“The same with Cesc Fàbregas. He said this was a big club and that I was going to be very happy here, he said I would adapt easily. And I can feel that.” (Guardian)
The midfielder has 45 caps for Spain to date and was a member of the squads that won the Euros in 2008 and this past summer.
Today, I’m joined by Málaga resident and Arsenal fan Robbie Ducker (@RobbieDucker) who has followed the Cazorla saga closely.
1. What was your initial reaction when you heard Cazorla was going to join Arsenal?
I was very excited (sad from a Málaga point of view) because he is probably the most naturally gifted player in La Liga outside of Madrid/Barca.
2. How much of an impact do you think his departure will have on Málaga?
I think it will be a huge loss for Málaga because he was at the center of most their attacks. I hope someone will step up and fill his shoes (maybe Isco). This is like Arsenal losing Cesc or RvP. He was clearly their best player and influential in them achieving Champions league football.
3. What are the strengths and weaknesses you have observed of Cazorla? Both on and off the pitch.
His strengths are his passing, his creativity, his pace, two footed, he would get past players with ease and leave them chasing shadows and he’s also a set-piece specialist. I remember watching Málaga vs Real Madrid, and it was level until Santi scored a brilliant FK in the 90 min to win it. His biggest weakness is probably that sometimes he would try to do too much on his own.
4. How did Cazorla grow as a player while at Málaga?
I think he’s become more versatile as he can play in most position in the midfield. At Málaga he played on both wings, the CAM position and even as a DM on occasions.
5. How do you think Cazorla will fit into the Arsenal team?
Very well. He’s a Spaniard and plays like one. Passing is very important to him, which will suit Arsenal’s passing game very well.
6. How do you see Cazorla coping in England and the Premier League?
He’s small so might struggle with the physicality of some teams. But when Arsenal has the ball (which is most of the time) he will be fine and will control the tempo of the game just fine.
7. How do you think Cazorla’s relationships with Arteta and Pires will help in Cazorla’s adjustment to playing outside of Spain for the first time in his career?
I think his relationship with them will more help him in living outside of Spain for the first time, because on the pitch he will soon be regarded as one of the best in the EPL.
Thank you for joining me on this series. I would also like to extend my thanks to the three people that have contributed to the blogs. If you have not read parts 1 and 2 of the series yet, they are as follows:
Part 1: Lukas Podolski
Part 2: Olivier Giroud
Bring on Sunderland! UTA
Follow me @goonerathena =)