Much has been made of Santi Cazorla's return to form. He was influential in Arsenal's dominant win over Dortmund --assisting two-- and was again rampant in the win against West Brom. But it seems that everyone is collectively overlooking his on-field crimes. Yes, the chubby Spanish Andrey Arshavin is less of an angel and much more of a guilty, dastardly figure; he's football's Lady MacBeth.
Imagine that you're a footballer. You wake up in the morning refreshed after yesterday's light practice, the chill of the winter penetrates your house enough that goosebumps appear on your skin but not enough to be considered uncomfortable. You ponder turning up the thermometer but the cold is kind of nice, you think and besides, the morning tea will warm you right up. You get out of the bed to yawn and stretch, rubbing your eyes, you start to make your way to the kitchen for the aforementioned tea. It is Matchday.
Your team's bus pulls up to the team's facilities. The security man smiles, greets you all by name and clears you to enter. No need for identification anymore, he knows who you are. The barrier rises just enough for the bus to pass through, you think back to the numerous barriers and obstacles you've had to overcome in your life and smile back at the man. Thank you, Ernesto, you whisper to the man; his name is Robert, but that's neither here nor there.
The facilities are filled with familiar faces, old familiar faces. They brighten as they see you approach, like mirrors reflecting the glow of the sun. Hugs and kisses are exchanged, you get a few of their names wrong but names are superfluous things, what matters is the mutual love and the menu for this morning's breakfast. You immediately head to the cafeteria.
After the food is devoured and the plates have been left scattered on the table as a compliment to the chef, you make your way to the locker room to get dressed, greeting and exchanging hugs with your teammates, individuals from various corners of the globe with stories of rags-to-riches as similar as yours. As you put on your warm-ups and boots, you realize that home is not where you're born but where the heart is, and this place, with all of these people, is home. Time seems to stop as you gaze around at the numerous eccentricities that exist in this pocket world. This is nice.
The pregame training session goes as it always goes, you push yourself enough to test the limits of your abilities but not to the point of injury. Your manager, often described as being a few teaspoons of sugar short of a French Vanilla Cappuccino; a few mutinies short a of French national team World Cup collapse, a few Arsene Wenger zipper gaffes short of a late season Arsenal collapse --you get the point, he acknowledges your effort.
The match is about to begin. You're playing Arsenal today in the Champions League and in this game you will be tasked with not only helping your team's offensive game by bombing forward but also by keeping a lid on one Santi Cazorla. In the tunnel, the teams stand side by side with each player partnered with a mascot, your heart fills with pride, this is your dream and it never stops being surreal. You hear the Champions League theme and a single tear streaks down your left eye.
Handshakes are exchanged between players and referees. As you approach Santi Cazorla, you smile at him to assure him that whatever happens in the game is just part of the game and nothing to do with the respect that you have for him. He extends his hand and looks up at you. The look stuns you. Maybe it was the chill of the morning or the breakfast but for a split second when you locked eyes with him, it felt as if you had peered deeply inside an otherworldly evil. But this is Santi Cazorla, as harmless as morning tea. You collect yourself to shake his hand.
Twenty-nine minutes, thirty three seconds into the match: you're one on one against Cazorla on the right wing. Though he had been skilled in the past, you've been assured by the manager and by watching game tape that he's nothing more than a shadow of his former self. He's pudgy and anonymous now, taking the ball from him will be as easy as taking candy from a baby. Ironically he's as tall as one.
Twenty nine minutes and thirty three seconds into the game. You are one on one against Cazorla on the right wing when you feel that same flash of evil again. The world of your heart darkens, a storm gathers in your soul and you see in the eyes of the man before you a future where all you love and hold dear is laid to waste. And then it happens:
As you jog after him, you can feel the eyes of your ancestors judging you; your future wife and children averting their gaze in shame. Even in the chaos of the game, you can hear the solitary seats where your parents sat in the stadium creaking as they get up to leave. Tears begin to streak down your eyes, no longer with pride but with the sharpness of shattered dreams. The illusion of a good world is broken.
The game ends, Arsenal win but you've suffered a loss that no scoreboard can ever record. You have been victimized; abused and discarded by a heinous short man with wands for feet. As you sit on the bus alone, you can hear the cruel whispers of your teammates even through your sound cancelling headphones. Or maybe they're nothing more than your own accusatory thoughts. If you had just been a bit faster or stronger, more capable...
You sigh deeply and close your eyes, falling into dreams where good men still exist.