Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla has revealed his foot almost needed to be amputated after requiring eight surgeries on his ankle, which developed gangrene.
He spoke to Marca's Lorena Gonzalez and explained how his career almost came to an end: "If you get to walk again with your son in the garden, be satisfied, they told me."
The paper shared photos of the resulting scar Cazorla bears after he required a skin graft from his arm (h/t Goal's Chris Wheatley):
Chris Wheatley @ChrisWheatley_
Front page of tomorrow's Marca: 'The Cazorla torment. Two years without playing, eight surgeries and an infection which almost saw him lose his foot.' (Via @elspanishgooner) https://t.co/Nkx9duR60z2017-11-3 00:07:25
La huella del calvario de @19SCazorla: el tatuaje del nombre de su hija, del brazo al tobillo ▶ https://t.co/WImkHMwmC1 Por @LorenaGlez1711 https://t.co/2aVh68tU9b2017-11-3 08:51:42
The 32-year-old suffered the injury against Ludogorets in the UEFA Champions League last year and developed Achilles tendonitis in his right ankle.
However, his recovery was not as straightforward as anticipated: "The medical professionals told me it was OK, the problem was that it did not heal and the wounds would reopen, become infected."
After doctors in England struggled to treat Cazorla, he turned to Dr. Mikel Sanchez: "He saw that I had a tremendous infection, that I had damaged part of the calcaneus bone and it had eaten the Achilles tendon. There was eight centimetres of it missing!"
Sanchez discovered "three more aggressive bacteria" during the surgery, the cause of the infection, and while Cazorla was successfully treated with antibiotics, his foot was at risk of being amputated to prevent the spread of gangrene up his leg.
The Spaniard has now been out for over 12 months, but he has been plagued by injury problems for the last few years, and he revealed he has been playing with pain ever since suffering an injury with Spain in 2013: "The first time I could endure the pain a little better. If I got warm I could play, but at half-time, as soon as I cooled down a bit, I would cry."
A ligament injury in his left knee would require an operation in December 2015, and he had only recently returned to action from that before facing Ludogorets.
Cazorla is now in rehabilitation after Sanchez reconstructed his tendon in May, and he remains optimistic of a return for Arsenal: "I do not have clearance until January, but I will come back by then."
The playmaker added that he receives daily messages of support from his Spain team-mates, and he has managed to maintain a positive outlook without needing a psychologist: "It's a relief. Everything that I have gone through has not been as simple an injury as people have believed. Nobody trusted me but I do, I still do, although the pain keeps me cautious."
The Independent's Miguel Delaney and The Guardian's Sid Lowe offered their thoughts on Cazorla:
Miguel Delaney @MiguelDelaney
Poor Cazorla. A very genuine nice bloke. Remarkable photo. https://t.co/i5GTkfMCj82017-11-2 23:04:16
Sid Lowe @sidlowe
Marca's story on Santi Cazorla makes for very hard but very moving and important reading.2017-11-3 09:36:39
He has undoubtedly been missed at the Emirates Stadium, where he was among their most talented players—he has produced 29 goals and 45 assists in 180 appearances for the Gunners.
The Spain international, who has 78 caps for La Roja, stood out thanks to his marvellous technique, boundless creativity and graceful composure on the ball. He is also a versatile operator, having spent time in virtually every midfield position over the course of his career—including on both flanks, as a No. 10 and in the centre.
He'll be 33 next month, so he's running out of time to salvage what's left of his career, but he'll be a welcome return to both Arsenal and the Premier League if he can complete his comeback.