Santi Cazorla has hit out at Arsenal's medical staff over treatment he received for an ankle injury that eventually ended the Spaniard's tenure with the Gunners and almost cost him his playing career and mobility.
In an interview with the Guardian's Sid Lowe, Cazorla said doctors consistently missed an infection caught after his initial injury. He also said,"They never took responsibility or said sorry, that they hadn’t realised."
Cazorla, who left Arsenal for old club Villarreal in the summer, did, however, praise then-Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, saying the Frenchman "always supported me."
He detailed how Wenger went to great lengths to give Cazorla the security of a new contract, despite his injury, enabling him to focus fully on his recovery.
Wenger made the gesture before Cazorla underwent the first of what would prove to be as many as 10 operations, something the player dubbed "an incredible gesture":
"He called me in: 'Santi, I'm going to give you the optional year. It's here, sign it, have your operation with peace of mind.' That helped me focus on my rehabilitation without fear. I'm eternally grateful for that."
Cazorla's memory of Arsenal's medical staff wasn't so positive. He recalled how key details were missed when it came to diagnosing an ankle problem first suffered when the midfielder faced Chile in a friendly for Spain back in late 2013.
Lowe recounted how the original issue was compounded by a cracked bone and knee ligament damage. According to Cazorla, the situation got worse when an infection was missed:
"I picked it up in the operating theatre and then there was the fact that the wound was open. 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. 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."
Cazorla's infection, virulent enough to eat through a tendon in the playmaker's ankle, was only properly identified when he returned to Spain. The results of an examination were made available to Arsenal:
"The discovery was relayed back. They (doctors in the UK) said: 'We know.' They said it was under control. 'We gave you antibiotics.' But giving antibiotics isn't the same as giving the exact antibiotic for each specific bug. They didn't know which bacteria were eating the tendon."
Cazorla told Lowe he didn't feel the need to take legal action. However, he did question whether his original doctors assumed culpability: "I'm convinced they think they did the right thing, that it wasn't because of the bacteria that wasn't spotted, that it was just bad luck. I don't think they feel guilty."
The 33-year-old also admitted he wishes he'd taken a different approach to his treatment and recovery: "I should have come to Spain the first day."
Arsenal have responded to Cazorla's interview with a statement (h/t Sam Dean of the Telegraph) defending the care he received: "This was a complex medical situation. We worked with world renowned specialists as part of his treatment to get him back playing for us."
Cazorla's words are unlikely to sour his relationship with Arsenal or the club's fans. Signed from Malaga in 2012, he was arguably Wenger's last great acquisition.
His eye for a defence-splitting pass, quick feet and impish skills not only endeared him to Gunners supporters, but they also made him an essential member of the team before his time ended during a 6-0 win over Ludogorets in the UEFA Champions League in October 2016.
Cazorla still played in two victorious FA Cup finals on Wenger's watch. He was the catalyst for 2014's thrilling 3-2 comeback against Hull City, scoring a terrific free-kick before taking the corner Laurent Koscielny eventually turned in to equalise after Arsenal had been down 2-0.
It was Arsenal's first trophy in nine years.
Cazorla was back at Wembley the following year, dancing away from Aston Villa markers to pull the strings in an emphatic 4-0 triumph.
Although the Gunners won the Cup again two years later, they were never as competitive, nor as free-flowing, without their mini maestro in the middle.
Cazorla's memories of how his injury was treated only fuel the feeling Arsenal were robbed of a truly great player. Wenger likely still thinks about two different his final two seasons in charge might have been had his most important player been available.