Villarreal: Cazorla: I’ve got excited about playing at Euro 2020
Villarreal Midfielder spoke to MARCA
Santi Cazorla has admitted that he’s got excited about the prospect of playing for Spain at Euro 2020.
The midfielder has hauled himself back into international contention after a couple of extraordinary seasons with Villarreal.
He spoke to MARCA about his current club, his goalscoring, Arsenal, retirement and much more in an exclusive interview.
What a season! Your numbers are amazing. You’ve equalled your best scoring season – 2012/13 – with 12 goals for Villarreal. You were 28 then, possibly at the best time of your career. Now you’re 35 and, after everything that has happened, you’ve equalled this figure and have almost half a season left to beat it.
I’ve always wanted to improve my goalscoring record. In my first season with Arsenal, I scored 12 and I’d never scored so many goals. I’m having that luck again this season because, although many of them are penalties, I always say that you have to score them. There are lots of games to go and let’s hope I can improve this number and, above all, help the team a lot.
Has the Santi of eight years ago, before all the injuries, changed much compared to now?
I’ve changed as a player because now I have to be much smarter from a physical point of view. Being 26 and 35 is not the same and even more so after injuries. Now, I know what I can and can’t do and I know how to regulate myself in order to be able to be at my best on the pitch.
What does it mean to be the highest scoring midfielder in LaLiga Santander this season?
I saw the stat recently and I wasn’t aware of it. I’m happy to be amongst the best and to be able to contribute [in terms of goals]. It’s important the midfielders help in attack and that it’s not just down to the forwards. It’s good for the team and I think we have quality midfielders here that can contribute a lot in this department.
Do you like to set yourself individual challenges away from the team ones?
Yeah, a player has to set themselves individual challenges to motivate themselves and improve day by day. You have to always be clear that the good of the team comes before [the individual]. But everything that helps you improve as a player ends up benefitting the team as well.
Well, in this sense, the next challenge could be to beat the 17 goals that Juan Roman Riquelme scored in the 2004/05 season to be the highest scoring midfielder over one season in Villarreal’s history.
I didn’t know that and, furthermore, that was my first proper season in the top flight. There’s still time to try [to beat] it and the numbers are there. I have to say that Roman has been writing to me a lot recently and he’s really happy for me, for how well it’s going and that I’m scoring goals. He was a reference point for me and for this club. Remember that I’ve played with very good players throughout my career, whether that’s with Villarreal, Arsenal or Spain, but, for me, Roman was the best of the lot. A different player who won games by himself and I’m lucky to have played with him.
Going back to this season, the race for the European places is tremendous and there are lots of quality teams that are going to compete with Villarreal for them.
Right now, everyone is fighting for something and each game is top quality. Everyone’s really at the same level and it’s difficult to win games. It’s not a clich that there are no easy games whoever you play against. Whoever is the most consistent will qualify for Europe. [We] have been winning lots of games lately and we have to continue. Saturday’s game against Levante is a key match because then we go to the Wanda Metropolitano and San Mames.
Is that the main thing you’ve noticed since returning to LaLiga, the evenness of each game?
Yeah, in my previous spell with Villarreal, there were six or seven teams that were almost assured of a European place and the rest fought to stay up. We were among the best when we did things well and now it’s really tough. The example is Getafe, who are having an amazing season and are fighting with anyone. Then there’s also Sevilla, Valencia, Real Sociedad, Athletic Club, the big clubs… To qualify for Europe, you have to have a great season, but it’s true that the competition is more beautiful like this.
Is this a football where it’s harder to win with touch and possession, especially when teams are playing at home?
In LaLiga, there is a more physical football and it’s much more even from a tactical point of view. Before, you could win games with a good 20 minutes and now it’s not enough. You need to be on it for 90 minutes or you’ll end up paying for it and the opponent punishes you. It’s more even in that way.
A team full of international players and that has signed Paco Alcacer can’t fail in the fight for Europe?
It’s true that we have a very good team and we have to demand that we fight for Europe until the end. We have to be optimistic and even more so with the arrival of Paco, who is a great player, and that’s why the club made a big effort in the transfer window. There are great players all over the pitch. We have to have a bit of pressure, be realistic and know that we have to fight for realistic goals like qualifying for Europe.
For someone who has spent so long at Villarreal, the disappointment of going out of the Copa del Rey must have been massive.
It was a very big blow. Even more so when Barcelona and Real Madrid went out the next day. With respect to the great teams that have made it into the semi-finals, it’s not the same without Barcelona and Real Madrid not having the chance [of winning the trophy]. It hurt a lot and we made three big mistakes [against Mirandes]. We had lots of expectation in the Copa this season and I understand the anger of the fans for which we can only say sorry for and tell them that we’re going to fight until the end to achieve the amazing goals that we have, like qualifying for Europe. If we achieve it, even though we have that thorn in our side, it will be a lesser evil.
Does it bother you that you didn’t get to say goodbye to the Arsenal fans on the pitch?
Yeah, it’s a big regret that I don’t know if I will get over. Let’s hope I can play there one day with whichever team it may be and I can thank them for the love that they’ve always shown me and keep showing me. Last summer, I had the chance to play in the Emirates Cup, but it didn’t happen in the end and it was a shame. Let’s hope those doors open for me.
Do they ask you a lot from England about Samu Chukwueze and Pau Torres?
Yeah, mainly my Arsenal friends. They ask me about them and they think that they can make the jump to the Premier League soon. It’s good that big clubs are interested in the young players at Villarreal but, for the moment, I’m asking them to let them stay here. They still have to make more steps [in their development]. Those two have great personalities and their feet are on the ground. In Pau’s case, I’m constantly hearing talk about Manchester City or Barcelona, but he knows that he has to keep improving as a player and we’ll see how far he can go in the future.
Would you be disappointed if you don’t go to Euro 2020?
Not disappointing because I know my age and I know the players that are there. But yes, it’s true that I’ve got excited about being there. 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. I spoke to [Luis Enrique] for 10 minutes recently when he came to the game yesterday and I’m grateful for his words.
Is this Spain team far off from the one that won all those trophies?
We always have to compare in this country and that’s a mistake because any national team is losing [in that debate]. We have to leave people alone because players are coming through with promising futures. I think that this summer, there are options to compete to win the Euros because it’s very even between various teams and Spain are there.
Your contract is up in June. What plans do you have for the future?
I haven’t made any long-term plans, not at 35 years old. I will finish the season and see what my body is telling me because I get up feeling different each day. I’ve always said that I’d return here to play at my best and when I see that I’m not even at 80 percent, I will step aside and let young players come through. Right now, I’m happy, but I notice my age; the injury is there and it’s getting more difficult. I’m not planning anything right now, but it’s clear that playing in Europe is a plus for any player. I will decide in the summer.
With the end of your career edging closer, what dreams do you still have to achieve?
It’s clear for me: winning a trophy with Villarreal. That’s why going out in the Copa this season hurt so much. I’ve been here for many years and I feel at home. Let’s hope they can achieve it, even if I’m no longer here. But it’s clear for me that, aside from trophies, the best thing is the love that I receive each week in every stadium and that will be the best thing that stays with me.
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