At Barcelona and Real Madrid, new signings show off a little skill with keepy-uppy juggling. At Feyenoord, new signings descend onto the field in a helicopter.
None of that stands up to what Villarreal did on Friday.
Officially unveiling former Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla, Villarreal used an illusionist to magically summon Cazorla into a cylinder with dry ice smoke billowing out of the top. You have to see it to believe it.
Cazorla made his professional and La Liga debut with Villarreal way back in 2003, and now with his return he’s come full circle, after a well-documented struggle overcoming an Achilles injury that nearly cost him his career.
4,500 fans packed El Madrigal to watch Cazorla’s introduction. Cazorla has actually been training with the side since the beginning of July.
Santi Cazorla was facing the prospect of never walking again.
Now, he’s back where he belongs.
Cazorla made his incredible return to soccer 636 days after his last match, coming off the bench in Villarreal’s first preseason match of the season, a 1-1 draw with Hercules. Between his last game and now, Cazorla had to endure eight (8!) operations on his Achillies tendon, an infection to the tendon and his leg, and nearly two years on the sidelines as he contemplated and worried if he would ever play again.
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After years as a top player and 77 caps for the Spanish National Team, Cazorla is thankful to just put on his shirt and boots for a game.
“To feel like a football player is very special,” Cazorla told Villarreal’s website. “Without a doubt, I stay with the affection of the people throughout this period. The fans have given me strength and accompanied me during difficult times. “
Arsenal fan favorite Santi Cazorla saw his time with the Gunners come to an unceremonious end this summer. He had struggled for almost three full seasons with an ankle injury that continued to baffle doctors.
At one time, it got so bad that doctors told him he was lucky to walk again. Now, Cazorla is doing much more than walking.
The 33-year-old Spaniard, who is training with his old club Villarreal this summer after the expiry of his Arsenal contract, returned to the field for the first time in 636 days when he entered in the 67th minute of Villarreal’s friendly against Segunda B side Hercules.
Beaming with a massive smile, Cazorla received a hearty reception from the home Villarreal fans at the Mini Estadi on his enterance to the match. The match eventually ended in a 1-1 draw.
Cazorla posted on Twitter a week ago to say how happy he was to “feel like a footballer again” while training with Villarreal and said while there’s “much more work ahead” he has “more enthusiasm than ever.”
The Spaniard made 180 appearances for Arsenal across all competitions during his six-year stint in the Premier League, providing fluid creativity at the front of the Gunners’ attack, but the last three seasons were a nightmare. First a knee injury kept him out nearly the entire second half of the 2015/16 season, and then he ruptured his Achilles in October of 2016. It was not a standard recovery, eventually requiring a total of eight operations. A nasty infection required more surgery, forcing doctors to graft tendons from his left arm into his foot.
Gunners fans may not see him at The Emirates again, but they will be happy to know Cazorla has crossed a major hurdle in his attempt to return to the field competitively.
Santi Cazorla hasn’t played a match for the Gunners since suffering a gruesome Achilles injury back in October 2016.
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And unfortunately for the Spaniard, Cazorla won’t feature for Arsenal again after six years at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal released a statement on Monday revealing the veteran midfielder won’t return to the club in 2018/19, which isn’t unexpected given the extent of his injury.
In his time with the Gunners, Cazorla made 180 appearances in all competitions for the club, and helped Arsenal win two FA Cups.
Cazorla was also a member of the Spanish national team squads that won back-to-back UEFA EURO competitions in 2008 and 2012.
Santi Cazorla revealed earlier this month some of the gruesome details of his now-13-month battle to return from an achilles injury suffered in October 2016, and it’s only grown more heartbreaking in the weeks since.
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Having already endured eight operations, faced a bout of gangrene, been faced with the possibility he could lose the leg and seen an eight-centimeter chunk of the tendon eaten away by infection, the discomfort is yet to subside and Cazorla has undergone a ninth operation, the 32-year-old Arsenal midfielder announced via his Twitter account on Wednesday.
“Some discomfort in the tendon that had dragged the last few days, I have had to undergo surgery. It is delaying the date of return to the playing fields, I maintain the hope and motivation to enjoy my great passion, soccer.”
Cazorla had recently hoped to return to full training with the Arsenal squad in January, with an eye toward a handful of appearances at the tail end of the season. Doing so would provide Cazorla a foundation of fitness and form ahead of the 2018-19 season.
Prior to operation no. 9, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger had already called Cazorla’s ongoing saga “the worst injury I’ve ever known.”