The last time Santi Cazorla played for the Spanish national team, Donald Trump wasn’t President, Vine still existed, and Real Madrid only had one Champions League this decade. The date was November 14, 2015, and Cazorla had scored against England in a 2-0 friendly win. The wheels almost literally fell off for Cazorla right after that, with a series of leg and foot injuries so horrific that doctors feared they might have to resort to amputation.
But after a harrowing recovery, outlined in its all gruesome detail by The Guardian in 2018, as well as a departure from Arsenal back to Villarreal, not only has Cazorla revived his playing career, but he’s even back to being one of the standout Spanish players of the season. Last seen on this site demoralizing Real Madrid with a brace on January 4, Cazorla rode his wonderful comeback season to a slot in the Spanish national team for next month’s Euro qualifiers against Faroe Islands and Sweden.
How good has Cazorla been? The stats are pretty mind-boggling for a player who looked cooked the last time he donned an Arsenal kit. The 34-year-old midfielder scored six goals in 44 appearances across all competitions this year, to go along with 11 assists, and has been the club’s best player. While Villarreal spent most of the season in danger of relegation, the Yellow Submarine have climbed back up to 14th place in La Liga with one game to go, safe and sound for next season. Cazorla is fifth in La Liga in chances created, and his ten league assists rank behind only Lionel Messi and Sevilla’s Pablo Sarabia, who each have 13.
More than the stats, though, the simple joy of seeing Cazorla playing at a high level again is what’s most memorable about his season. Despite the awful music, this highlight video does a good job of showing an elegant dribbler with aquiline passing vision; in other words, the player Cazorla was before his injuries.
While Cazorla is likely done at the international tournament level (unless he somehow replicates his form next year, his age-35 season, it’s doubtful that he will be included in the side for the 2020 Euros), getting him one more call-up and hopefully some playing time in the team with which he won the 2008 and 2012 Euros is a delightfully unexpected happy ending for what was almost a tragic tale. Cazorla could have retired after literally having a part of his arm grafted onto his leg, and no one would have blamed him. Instead, he used his surgically repaired magical feet to reel off at least one last season of excellence before he rides into the night.