With the whole of England, or at least those commentating on the Premier League, convinced that Kun Aguero and Juan Mata have come from another planet, perhaps it’s time to look at one of La Liga’s finest, a midfield player approaching the pinnacle of his career that is not based at the Camp Nou or the Bernabeu: Santi Cazorla.
Though his fantastic vision, dribbling, pace, and intelligence off the ball are the paramount aspects that have led to his individual acclaim, Santi is a player whose capabilities on the pitch only tell half the story. The 26-year-old, standing at 5 feet 6 inches tall, is a leader.
What kind of leader is he exactly? Well, think of him as an anti-John Terry. Never one to shout or lose his temper, the winger’s tranquil nature and undying composure produce a calm that permeates within his teammates in even the most intimidating of venues. By controlling the rhythm of an attack or getting out of trouble in the tightest of spaces, Cazorla allows his fellow footballers to reach their potential and create flowing, confident passages of play.
Often wearing the captain’s armband for the Yellow Submarines last season, Spaniards saw Santi help a group of players flourish from the most unlikely of places. Of course, before Cazorla’s rise to prominence legends like Diego Forlan and Juan Roman Riquelme had passed through El Madrigal, but he led the charge in constructing a new, distinctly Spanish style of attacking play. Usually surrounded by the trio of Cani, Borja Valero, and Bruno Soriano, as well as Giuseppe Rossi and the spirit of los Submarinos, Marcos Senna, his steadfast midfield presence was the main reason Villarreal were able to legitimately challenge any opponent. Like Pedro, his fellow Spaniard in the spotlight, Santi Cazorla is an ambidextrous winger that can also function as an attacking midfielder, a recipe that has often leaves defenders searching aimlessly for non-height related holes in his game that simply are not present.
Despite achieving widespread success, the Villarreal era of Cazorla’s career, which began in 2002, is over. And though Sevilla president Jose Maria del Nido stated that “[La Liga] is a third-world league in which two clubs take the others’ television money,” the truth is that Santi Cazorla and his new club Malaga live outside of the bubble of financial strain facing domestic football throughout Spain.
An era of unchartered prosperity is on the horizon, but for Malaga to achieve the success that their fellow super-rich clubs Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City enjoy, they need a leader in the dressing room and on the pitch. Cazorla won’t be taking the captain’s armband from Jesús Gámez anytime soon, but all early signs show that Manuel Pellegrini has chosen Santi Cazorla to be the foundation of Malaga’s attack. Developing chemistry will take time, but in Malaga’s 4-0 win over Granada, not only did Cazorla snag two goals, but he combined brilliantly with Duda and Jeremy Toulalan and set up Joaquin for the fourth goal of the evening. Only a few short years ago with Valencia, Joaquin was of the same calibre as the likes of David Villa, David Silva and Juan Mata. If he can rediscover his fine form, then Malaga’s flanks will be among the most dangerous in Europe. And with Cazorla by his side, odds are that the 30-year-old will finish his career on a high.
But beyond being respected in Europe, Malaga’s billionaire president Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani has one eye on Champions League qualification, which looks to be within reach if Pellegrini’s squad continues to blossom throughout the campaign. Santi Cazorla has the weight of La Rosaleda’s faithful on his shoulders, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. Exciting times lie ahead for Malaga, but you’ll only hear ‘tranquilo!’ from Santi as the Euro 2008 and World Cup winner gets ready to take his team and his career to the next level.
Eric Beard is the founder and editor of afootballreport.com