In my head, Santi Cazorla will always be associated with Cyrano de Bergerac.
I don’t know what it is. His nose is a little on the large size. And he does have the sort of marionette quality that has become mandatory for many modern depictions of the medieval poet-cum-swordsman.
But there is something more.
In Edmond Rostand’s play of the same name, Cyrano de Bergerac finds himself deeply in love with the enchanting Roxane. However, as a result of his large nose, he considers himself too ugly to tell her of his feelings.
When Roxane falls in love with another man, Cyrano comes up with an ingenious idea – he can express his feelings for her by pretending to be this other man.
This he did by writing letters under the nom de plume of Roxane’s suitor, pouring out his feelings onto the page and, in so doing, causing Roxane to fall ever more deeply in love with her pseudonym lover.
After many years, though, the ruse was finally up: in a moment of epiphany, Roxane realises that the man she thought she had fallen in love with was, in fact, another and she declares her love for the generously-benasaled Cyrano.
In the final scene of the play, Cyrano, having declared that he had defeated his ‘old enemies’ – falsehood, loss and compromise – succumbs to an injury picked up earlier in the play.
He dies proclaiming the “one pure possession – which I have never ceased to cherish or to share with all… my enormous – panache.”
Santi de Bergerac
‘Panache’ is a word that is easily applicable to Santi Cazorla.
Take Javi Guerrero, for example: a former teammate of Cazorla at Villarreal.
When asked about the diminutive midfielder, he said: “You could see [at 15] that he had all the qualities to be world class… He was two footed, even taking corners from both sides and both feet, swinging in or swinging out. I remember being impressed by that but what was most striking was how daring he was for a player so young.”
The word translated as ‘daring’ here is the Spanish word desparpajo – it could even be translated as ‘panache’.
His coach at Real Oviedo, Luis Sanchez, echoed this sentiment: “[As a youngster h]e could already kick a ball wonderfully with both feet, technically he was miles better than everyone else: he was prodigious. He could go past you on either side, and he was the top scorer by miles. He was dynamic, different. His talent is innate.”
He may have looked nothing special: he was small, slight, unassuming. But his enormous panache…
Love at last sight
But there is also another parallel here – a more negative connotation.
When we talk about what it is that we love about football, we usually talk in a positive sense: a feeling of belonging within a community, a sense of being overwhelmed in the spectacle, of being embedded within a tradition.
In his book, Games without Frontiers, Joe Kennedy emphasises the negative element that accrues to football fandom.
He writes, “[F]ootball fans, and arguably players and managers, experience ecstasy ‘not at first sight, but at last sight’. The moment at which victory is sealed is simultaneously the one at which it begins to recede into the past, to become memory; indeed, it is something which is memorialised in the very instance of its happening, or even before it occurs.”
For the supporter, so much of their experience is lived in expectation of an event happening that, when it finally comes around, the moment seems to recede as soon as it occurs.
There is, then, lying behind our love of the beautiful game, a sense of intrinsic loss.
Cazorla at last sight
If the story of Cyrano de Bergerac is tainted by a sense of loss, the story of Santi Cazorla is similarly tainted.
For Cyrano, that loss was a life spent cultivating a love that could have been his for someone else. For Cazorla, that loss was of a career in which the best days were slowly eroded away.
That loss has been remarkably reflected in the Spaniard’s body itself: the skin graft that saw the re-situation of the tattoo of his daughter’s name onto his heel, a daily reminder of his loss.
After eight operations, a blood infection and the removal of eight centimetres of his Achilles tendon, Cazorla's football career offers its own version of the mantra 'not at first sight, but at last sight'.
But in this case, the last sight is not one of an apex that disappears almost before it has even occurred. It is the last sight of a career that had disappeared almost before it had even happened.
In Search of Lost Panache
“If you get to walk again with your son in the garden, be satisfied, they told me,” said Cazorla to Marca after his injury nightmare.
In fact, the Arsenal midfielder will spend pre-season training with his former team, Villarreal.
There are few people who will not be rooting for Cazorla in his search for lost panache. However, there will be no one for whom the suspicion will be that this panache will fully be recovered.
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