La Liga has been away long enough for us to forget a lot of the season, but we were never in danger of forgetting Santi Cazorla.
Even in those long months on the sidelines at Arsenal, before his eventual rebirth at Villarreal, the midfielder was always on our minds.
It’s only fitting, then, that he wasted no time reminding us his renaissance wasn’t going to be hit by the disappearance of all top-level football. If anything, the break has helped reenergise him.
With eight goals and six assists in La Liga this season, Cazorla has shown us he has no plans to coast into retirement.
Neither was forthcoming in Villarreal’s last-gasp win at Celta Vigo, delivered by Manuel Trigueros long after Cazorla made way in one of five second-half substitutions.
However, as the summer sun gave Balaidos the feel of a Word Cup group stage venue, the 35-year-old gave us one of the most stop-and-stare moments of La Liga’s return; a display which served to remind us of the absence of the live audience it certainly deserved.
Behind-closed-doors football might emphasise the lack of a raucous atmosphere, but moments like this remind us it also rids us of those moments where thousands are stunned into simultaneous, awestruck silence.
👀 Santi Cazorla having no problems picking out passes on his return to action
Good chance for Moreno, but still no opener just yet for Villarreal ❌ pic.twitter.com/qO8umk2Z9n
— Premier Sports 📺 (@PremierSportsTV) June 13, 2020
If it was possible for an empty stand to rise to its feet, moments like this would be the inspiration.
While Gerard Moreno was unable to convert the chance, it took us a while to retrain our eyes and move them away from the awe-inspiring ball over the top from Cazorla.
There’s something smooth and summery about the delivery, as if it belongs in this month.
It is a gentle and caring pass; the kind which would see us asleep on a sun-lounger at three in the morning and carry us into the shade to stop us from burning when we’re still there hours later.
It’s the kind of pass which knows we don’t want to get out of the pool and dry off, so it brings us a frozen margarita and places it into our hand without even requiring us to abandon horizontality.
It’s the kind which knows last night took its toll and calls ahead to make sure the breakfast buffet stays open an hour later than usual, rather than rushing us downstairs before we’re ready. And if we have to stay behind when everyone else leaves for their hike in the mountains, it doesn’t judge us.
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Cazorla has a way of locating the pass in between a number of conventional deliveries. It’s not a chip but it’s not a scoop. Its elevation is deliberate but not necessary for anything more than aesthetic pride.
Despite being a clear means to an end, presenting Gerard with a golden opportunity to break the deadlock, it still has a way of standing alone. It is both the artwork in the gallery and the roped-off area silently signposting its importance. It exists both with and without the chance it creates, even as it lacks the additional level of “you had to be there”.
It’s not quite no-look, either, but it’s not fully the opposite of that. Cazorla, in the arc of his body, seems to tell us he could be doing this with his eyes closed, but is saving such a thing for a more deserving moment. At 35, there might not be that many big-ticket games remaining, but he finds a way to remind those around him that his capabilities are far beyond our own even when he’s visibly holding something back.
We best not look away, even for a second, even if he’s allowed to do so whenever he wants. Santi Cazorla has earned the right to choose where to focus his attention, and our decision to watch him at work is not a choice but rather a responsibility.
By Tom Victor