By David Cartlidge, 26 Jul 2012 22:31
La Liga expert David Cartlidge has got the lowdown on the man Arsene Wenger wants to bring to The Emirates this summer
Versatile: Santi Cazorla can play right across the midfield Versatile: Santi Cazorla can play right across the midfield What happens to the best players in Spain that don’t play for Barcelona or Real Madrid? Well, one of two things. They either join one of the Big Two, or move abroad. This summer Jordi Alba chose the former, joining Barcelona, and it looks like Santi Cazorla could do the latter. Malaga’s pocket-sized magician may have run into trouble off the field with his current employers – a complaint was filed against the club for unpaid wages and subsequently withdrawn – but on it he rarely encounters any problems at all. At just 5ft 6in Cazorla fits the typical mould of a modern Spanish midfielder, making up for his lack of stature with exquisite technical ability, vision and movement. As agile as they come, Cazorla has matured brilliantly over the years in various surroundings. He first came on the scene with Real Oviedo as a product of their glorious cantera, before heading to Recreativo de Huelva. Villarreal then saw something special in the midfielder and is was at El Madrigal where he really began to shine. The midfielder became an integral part of the Castellon-based club’s rise from unknowns to European heavyweights – when he left for Malaga it was no coincidence his former club struggled. Midfielders: Santi Cazorla (Málaga CF) Viva Espana: Santi Cazorla in action for Spain Getty Playing in the famed Villarreal 4-2-2-2 he shifted gracefully between defence and attack proving himself to be a vital cog in the works of the Yellow Submarine as they produced some of the finest football on the continent. Not only was Cazorla efficient in his attacking work, providing a presence between the lines and picking opponents part with his agility, he also understood his defensive responsibilities and was energetic and selfless at the back as well. Further recognition of his talents came with a Spain call-up at Euro 2008, when the country won their first international honour in 44 years. Questions were asked when Luis Aragonés called up the uncapped Asturian, but time would prove him right and he was one of the first people to truly acknowledge his talent. Moving onto Malaga helped Cazorla’s beloved Villarreal ease their financial troubles but it also gave him the chance to lead a team into an exciting new era. Linking up again with Manuel Pellegrini, Cazorla was a key figure in Malaga’s qualification for Europe as he produced another phenomenal individual season.
The 27-year-old again showed his maturity and added more versatility to his game.Cazorla moved through various roles: most interesting was his deeper role in which he dictated play and moved the ball into advanced areas for the attack to thrive upon.
He also featured in his favoured attacking midfield role, positioned on the right but cutting in effortlessly to pick holes in the centre of opposition defences.
Despite not being the quickest Cazorla is still capable of smart bursts of pace and changes of direction when necessary to evade defenders.
It’s his on-field intelligence that remains the finest asset though, deceiving opponents by remaining one step ahead of them, whether it be with a cute pirouette or a subtle pass.
Often surrounded by three or four players, Cazorla still manages to find passing angles and create space for himself.
His 86% pass success rating throughout all competitions last season shows he rarely wastes an opportunity.
At free-kicks he can be deadly too, firing four in directly last season and generally providing classy delivery.
Altogether in his first season with Malaga, Cazorla managed nine goals, five assists and contributed directly in 23.9% of his teams goals. For many, he was the best player outside of Barcelona and Real Madrid all season.
Cazorla then went on to be part of Spain’s elite squad that won Euro 2012 – a bit part player may be, but an essential inclusion given his outstanding season and the undoubted quality he brings to the squad.
Despite being a consistently good performer, it seems Cazorla never gets the recognition he truly deserves.
Perhaps with a move to a bigger stage – like David Silva took when moving to Manchester City – his talents will get the platform they deserve.
Cazorla has all the attributes that Arsene Wenger deems necessary in a footballer and the Frenchman has always been a fan – indeed it remains a mystery why he didn’t followed up his interest last year.
Wenger has already brought in two big money signings this summer with Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud, but his best bit of business this year might yet be Cazorla – and the little Spaniard would not disappoint.
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