“Whenever you want,” says a Santi Cazorla (Lugo de Llanera, December 13, 1984) who picks up on time and, of course, smiling. “English punctuality is noticeable”, in memory of his time at Arsenal, to which he replies that “what can be done is done”, on the other side of the video call. Since Santi stood out at Villarreal when he was just a teenager, he has been one of the kindest faces in professionalism. Always glued to a smile, with that face he receives AS from his home in Doha, shortly after the daily training.
His career has not been easy. An injury stole inches from her daughter’s name tattoo on her arm to become part of her left heel. Two years fighting a very rare ailment that made him an example, although he does not see himself as such. When he was one of the most prominent players in LaLiga, he decided to step aside and left ‘his’ Villarreal to join Xavi Hernández at Al-Sadd Qatar. After beating Al-Duhail (3-1) last week and taking them away by eleven points, he attends us during the week, with the clash against Al-Kohr on Wednesday on the horizon. Clash that ends in a resounding 7-0 with our protagonist aiming for the win, from the penalty spot.
In this first part of the interview, he tells us about his present and future plans. He sets short-term goals, but without forgetting a future far from the pitch ever closer, and gives his opinion about the capabilities of his always friend and now coach. Cazorla is convinced that Xavi is ready to take the Blaugrana helm, but, in the meantime, he learns by his side.
How have you experienced the confinement?
Last year we played at Villarreal. Here, luckily, you have more or less normal life. In schools, children alternate face-to-face and on-line. But restaurants and other businesses … everything is open.
Are there no restrictions or curfew like in Spain?
No. They have started vaccinating and there is no curfew or anything. You just have to go with a mask and show an application that shows that you are negative to enter the establishments.
What is Qatari life like for an Asturian who has moved so much?
The truth is that it is great here. Having 20 or 25 degrees every day gives you quality of life. Also security, which is amazing. In Europe, you already know that it is difficult to go out and enjoy yourself with your family and here you have it. It is flattering that they recognize you and ask for photos, but being calm is appreciated many times.
It started to emerge very early, how did you lead that jump to fame? It was hard?
It is complicated, one is not used to media criticism and receiving comments from the newspapers on a day when you played badly. It is difficult at first, but it is something that makes you mature and learn. In bad times you get small sticks and you have to learn to live with it so that it does not affect you.
How do you see Qatar regarding the World Cup, are you prepared?
Yes, in the country they are building incredible things. I have spoken with Xavi and Raúl, who was also here, and before there was not half of what there is now. The stadiums are spectacular and the people are very expectant. In terms of selection they are growing a lot, they have made a team that has gotten into the World Cup, that has won the Asian Cup… I think they will be competitive.
What made you decide to go to Qatar?
It has been a country that has always attracted me. Xavi told me that the league was more competitive every day. That I did not think that I was going to come here to walk and it has been. Although we go first and it seems easy, it is complicated. Better foreigners arrive every day. I am very happy to be able to experience it and that Xavi is there. I was very attracted to having him as a coach and learning from him.
“Every day I think about it more. Retirement is looming … I’m between coach and sports director”
Santi Cazorla, about a possible future on the bench.
Do you have in mind being a coach at some point or don’t you think about it yet?
Every day I think about it more. Retreat lurks, I am aware of how old I am (laughs). I am between coach and sports director. Here they are opening doors for me to begin to know each facet.
Look at Xavi’s case …
When he dropped out he took the course, he started to like it and then he decided. It is a bit the example that he gives me, that I wait and once I retire that I value what I want. He is perfectly qualified to be a coach. For something it is said that he can train Barcelona tomorrow.
Do you think you are ready to take the leap now?
Yes, I think he’s ready. He knows footballers well and knows how to treat them. He has been playing until recently and knows how to squeeze them. Although then it doesn’t matter how you play if you don’t win. He is aware of the demands that will be at Barça.
I already knew him as a player, but what changes having him as a coach, what stands out the most about him?
Your personality. You have a very clear idea. He comes from the Barça school and has always been a fan of attacking with the ball and goes to death with it. He prefers to take risks, come out from behind with the ball and that instills in us. It is his way of watching football. He has been a leader as a player and as a coach as well. Get the message across and that’s the hardest thing. Today everything is invented and if the coach does not arrive at the locker room it is very difficult for the results to arrive.
“Xavi manages to get the message across and that’s the most difficult thing”
Santi Cazorla, on Xavi’s abilities as a coach.
With Al-Sadd he started with a goal and a title. Now, Al-Duhail is 11 points away. Were they so favorites or is the ‘Cazorla effect’ noticeable?
The team has made important reinforcements. Guilherme (exDepor) has come, who gives us a lot; Tabata (40 years old), who brings experience. The Qatari players are almost all international. Together we are having a great year. As much as one is well, if the others do not accompany it, it is very difficult to win. I am very happy and I am feeling very well.
Numerically, he is close to beating his best records (15 goals and 11 assists for Villarreal last season). He has already been 12 and 11. Double-double very basketball.
(Laughs) Let’s see, let’s see, hopefully. I always set those kinds of goals for myself, to beat myself at the level of assists and goals. The main thing is the team, but if I can exceed those figures, welcome.
As for you, if there is a Cazorla coach, what would his football be?
I don’t know if it would be worth as a coach, I laugh a lot and I don’t know if they would take me into account (laughs). The style I like is Xavi’s. It is the football that we have looked for in my teams. That is what I would like, but a coach must adapt to footballers and you have to be smart.
Are you crazy about football or do you prefer to separate leisure and ‘work’?
I am a real madman. I watch everything: all the leagues, Oviedo online, I spend all day watching football. Sunday is a spectacular day, with matches from 2 to 11 at night. I spend the whole day on the couch watching football and I’m the happiest guy in the world. I have fried my family and my wife, but they already know me (laughs).
“Sunday is a spectacular day, with games from 2 to 11 at night. I spend the whole day on the couch watching football”
Santi Cazorla, to AS.
Throughout his career he has had great coaches … Who would say that he has scored the most?
It is very difficult to choose. A very important one was Marcelino. You see the success with Athletic… He is little valued for what he has achieved, but he has always produced an incredible performance. In Huelva he was very important for my development and he bet on me. Pellegrini has always tried to take me with him and has looked for a style of possession game that helps me. And of course Luis Aragonés. It allowed me to wear the National Team shirt and it made me feel important at Euro 2008…. Then Arsène is different. Nowadays it is unthinkable to stay 20 years in the same club. You can say that he was Arsenal. I was surprised by how close and simple it was. I stay with everyone.
On some occasion you have been associated with accompanying Arteta as part of his coaching staff at Arsenal, is that something you value?
Mikel was very important when I came to Arsenal. He did not speak the language and he was the only Spanish. It helped me a lot, both he and his family. We were two soccer patients, we watched games and he already had that coaching gene. It is something that I would value tomorrow, now I am not considering it. If I am given the opportunity and he believes that I can help him, it is something that I would not mind and I would leave the door open to enjoy that experience with him. But there is nothing for today, it will be seen.
“If he thinks I can help him, I would not mind and leave the door open. But there is nothing for today.”
Santi Cazorla, on being part of the Arteta coaching staff.
In the short term, what is your goal?
After the injury, enjoy every day. You never know what can happen. Now I think about Wednesday that I have a league game. Enjoy, do things well and help my colleagues. I consider the day to day. When you realize it, you are close to retreat.