Playing for Al Sadd in Qatar might not be the most glamorous end to a career, but former Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla is having a blast.
You can pick and choose from the ‘downsides’ of a deadly pandemic, but the turmoil heaped upon Euro 2020 is surely up there with the worst of them.
As things stand, UEFA still wants to hold a pan-European tournament in the summer of 2021, retaining the name ‘Euro 2020’ since all the promotional key-rings and stickers are sitting in a warehouse somewhere in Switzerland.
But whatever happens in June will differ greatly from the ‘Euro 2020’ initially promised to us.
One largely indisputable fact is that each player at the tournament will be exactly a year older than they were in the summer of 2020.
That’s great news for rising European talents like Kai Havertz, Kylian Mbappe, Joao Felix and Jadon Sancho, all of whom could theoretically be closer to fulfilling their potential by next year.
Unfortunately, it’s rather worse for older players for whom the originally scheduled Euro 2020 represented one last shot at glory.
Vincent Kompany might have gone to the original tournament with Belgium but ultimately retired in August 2020. Croatia’s Ivan Rakitic, capped 106 times, recently announced he will no longer play for his national team, as did German defender Jonas Hector.
Perhaps most tragic of all is the fate of Spanish midfield maestro Santi Cazorla.
After spending nearly two years out injured at Arsenal and undergoing some disgusting-sounding operations to try and save his career, Cazorla enjoyed an incredible renaissance at his beloved Villarreal over the 2018–19 season.
Despite being 34, he somehow improved further in 2019–20 and forced his way back into the Spanish national team after a hiatus of nearly four years.
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READ: Alternative highlights of 19-20: Santi Cazorla’s one-touch assist of the year
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“I know my age and I know the players that are there,” he said in February 2020. “But yes, it’s true that I’ve got excited about being [at Euro 2020].
“It was something that I’d written off when I returned to football; even the day that they called me up again I knew it was a reward and without too many expectations of staying in the squad.
“But I’ve kept playing at Villarreal and the national coaches have confidence in me and this has excited me.”
Then COVID happened.
Xavi over Arteta
Once La Liga resumed after the initial shutdown, Cazorla maintained his form, bagging three goals and four assists in the last 11 matches of the season as Villarreal secured Europa League qualification.
But those were to be his last games for the club. On 19 July, eight days after the original date for the Euro 2020 Final, players gave the 35-year-old Cazorla a guard of honour in his final match, a 4-0 win over Eibar.
Many thought the midfielder would retire, and Mikel Arteta reportedly offered his former team-mate a coaching job at Arsenal. Gunners…
Read More:Denied a fairytale Euro 2020, Cazorla has become a goal machine under Xavi –