Former Arsenal star Santi Cazorla has opened up about his injury hell over the last two years, during which a flesh-eating bacteria threatened his ability to walk.
The 33-year-old is finally set to return to the pitch with Villarreal after being released from his contract in north London, and although Cazorla admits the number of surgeries he has undergone have left him feeling like a "jigsaw puzzle", the midfielder acknowledges that he is incredibly lucky to still have a career.
"I picked it up [the infection] in the operating theatre and then there was the fact that the wound was open," Carzorla revealed to the Guardian, referring to an operation he had following a seemingly mild injury that was picked up against Ludogorets in 2016.
"I’d work on the bike and a couple of stitches would come out. Because it was an open wound, bacteria can enter, so another bug gets in. At night, a yellow liquid would come out. Every time they sewed me up, it split again; more liquid.
Reading Santi Cazorla’s story, a high degree of medical negligence/naivety on the part of professionals who are supposed to know better. All the same, really glad that football didn’t lose the ambidextrous pocket genius.— Dr. Mohammed Amali 🇳🇬 (@MoAmali) September 8, 2018
"They did a skin graft but they didn’t see what was inside - the bacteria eating away, eating away. They never found out which bacteria it was.
"They’d said to me: ‘Don’t worry about playing football, concentrate on regaining a normal life, being able to play with your son or go for a stroll.’"
Almost two years on from his initial injury and Cazorla is set to return to the pitch competitively during his third spell with Spanish side Villarreal.
The 33-year-old is very much seen as one of European football's nice guys, and Arsenal fans won't be alone in celebrating his return to professional football.