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Even before you begin to talk about the great footballing gifts with which Santi Cazorla was born – pace, intelligence and equal skill off either foot being merely the most obvious – it's key to understanding this Spaniard to know that football makes him deeply, passionately happy.
Not the trappings, wealth or fame. Just the simple act of being in contact with a football most days of the week, thrilling millions of fans every season with his sense of adventure, and improving the bag of tricks that already make him exceptional.
All that – and a deep reserve of self-confidence – leaves him pretty relaxed about the prospect of Arsenal FC having to knock out last season's beaten finalists in the UEFA Champions League round of 16 as FC Bayern München come to London for Tuesday's first leg. Cazorla knows Javi Martínez especially well and knows what form Bayern are in, but also remembers what happened to them in last May's home decider with Chelsea FC.
"That final was a further reminder that being the better team doesn't always mean that you'll win," he told Champions Matchday. "It was a pretty spectacular performance by Bayern but Chelsea, using their own strengths, took the trophy. It was all about details. [Didier] Drogba scored in the last seconds, then Arjen Robben missed a penalty. Had he scored I'm almost sure Bayern would have won. They still won a lot of admirers after a remarkable campaign in which they eliminated Real Madrid. Along with Barcelona, Bayern must be one of the favourites to win this season."
As a double European champion with Spain, who beat a German national side containing current Bayern players Mario Gomez, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm in the UEFA EURO 2008 final, Cazorla isn't fazed by what lies ahead. "It's not always easy to assess yourself but I'd say a couple of the things that have been most important in my career are the facts I was born two-footed – I've always had equal skill on left or right – and that I’m a bit bold or impudent on the pitch."
Arsenal boss Arsène Wenger has encouraged Cazorla to express himself on the pitch. "Here I'm a second striker," the 28-year-old said. "It's a position that puts me in contact with the ball a lot, but gives me the freedom I need to go seeking the right space. Honestly, it's perfect for me – just the way I like playing."
Speaking of Munich, it was probably in Germany, before facing 1. FC Köln in a pre-season friendly, that Cazorla knew he would settle at Arsenal after joining from Málaga CF last August. Induction was a shock, but fun – and a bonding exercise.
"It's a ritual you just have to go through at a new club," he said. "It was after dinner the night before the game and the lads told us the 'newbies' would each have to sing a song. I chose the Macarena because I thought, as a Spaniard, that would be easiest and I knew the dance. I needed all the breaks I could get because it was a very embarrassing moment. But the tradition is good. You laugh and it helps form the group."
The is an edited version of an interview in the current edition of Champions Matchday, the official magazine of the UEFA Champions League, available in digital versions on Apple Newsstand or Zinio, as well as in print. You can follow the magazine on Twitter @ChampionsMag.
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