Footballers endure a uniquely perishable and unforgiving shelf-life – and Santi Cazorla is all too aware that time is ticking.
In few occupations, even within the realm of professional sport, would you suddenly find yourself labelled a veteran once you creep past your 30th birthday.
For Cazorla, Arsenal’s squat yet silky playmaker, that landmark will arrive in December this year.
And after a club career that has so far yielded the inglorious sum total of an Intertoto Cup winner’s medal, it is little wonder he is determined to furnish his surpisingly meagre collection of medals.
Even amid a generation of unprecedented Spanish midfield artistry, Cazorla’s ability is clear. It has been enough to earn him 61 international caps and a place in two European Championship-winning squads.
Yet at club level success has eluded him. And as Arsenal’s 2013/14 campaign continues to unravel in all too familiar fashion, he admits the sound of that clock ticking is getting louder and louder.
“I want titles and that is why I came to Arsenal,” he says. “Every football player wants to win titles. We’ve gone many years without winning one. And if not, what I’ll look for in my next destination is to have the chance to win.
“I don’t want to close doors, but nowadays I’ve a contract with Arsenal for two more seasons. When I’m turning 31 I’ll evaluate myself and I’ll choose the best option. In which case, I would be delighted to come back [to Spain].”
The Gunners have endured a torrid couple of months with their European exit at the hands of Bayern Munich compounded by some harrowing drubbings inflicted by their title rivals.
They now find themselves struggling to cling onto fourth place in the Premier League table following a comprehensive 3-0 defeat to fifth-placed Everton at the weekend. It has further reinforced the theory that Arsene Wenger’s side has an inate propensity to implode in high-pressure situations – a notion Cazorla struggles to dismiss.
“We’ve been unlucky in several games. We had a lot of chances to win against Manchester United and there was Ozil’s penalty (against Bayern),” he says. “We couldn’t recover after going out against Bayern in the Champions League.
“And the defeat against Stoke finished us. You can’t lose against Stoke if you aspire to be the next champion.
“We haven’t got a winning mentality and we have to believe in ourselves (more). Sometimes you can get used to not fighting, but we can’t do that. Arsenal is and will always be a historic football club, we have to look forward.”
By that Cazorla means everyone at the Emirates Stadium – particularly the club’s board who he wants to see invest heavily in the summer as they bid to close the gap at the top.
“Arsenal has everything to win,” he adds. “History, infrastructure, an incredible stadium and great players.
“But we have to improve at crucial moments and sign the best football players because if you don’t do that, you may lag behind others.
“That is what makes it different at other clubs. You’ve a good example in Manchester City who signed Fernandiho, (Alvaro) Negredo… or even Manchester United with (Robin) Van Persie and (Juan) Mata.
“Arsenal know what they need next season, but it’s almost impossible to win a title if we haven’t got these kind of things.”
The Gunners have long followed a policy of austerity as they coped with the cost of moving to the Emirates Stadium, yet the first signs of them dipping into the elite end of the transfer market came last summer with the €50million (Dh253.4m) club record capture of Mesut Ozil.
The German burned brightly at the start of his new chapter in London, but has visibly faded as the demands of the season have taken their toll. Cazorla has great sympathy for his team-mate and says the 25-year-old needs to be protected.
“He has come at a difficult time,”the Spaniard explains. “When he arrived in London, he did an extraordinary job and people demanded his best level every match.
“But when he decreased his performance, the team suffered.
“Besides, I read a lot of articles about Ozil in Spain that affected him. We need to give him confidence and to show affection.”
With Arsenal now completely out of the running for the Premier League title, Cazorla admits it will be dificult to predict who emerges victorious.
He feels Liverpool’s lack of continental distractions have helped propel them to the top, while Manchester City have an edge in the form of boss Manuel Pellegrini. Cazorla played for the Chilean at Villarreal and Malaga, and rates him as the best coach he has played for.
“Liverpool are just in one competition and that could be decisive,” he says. “Chelsea are a competitive and effective team and just to score a goal (against them) is very difficult.
“On the other hand, you have Manchester City with the best squad in the Premier League and a great manager.
“I learnt a lot from of all of the managers I have played for, but if I had to choose one it would be Pellegrini.
“He’s the coach that has given me the most during five to six years that I worked with him at Villarreal and Malaga.
“He was the first person who took me to Malaga. We have a great relationship and I congratulate him because he’s doing well. But Manchester has not called me.”
Yet if Cazorla were to seek a fresh challenge, his phone might indeed be quite busy.
CAZORLA ON HIS SPANISH TEAMMATES
Which player would you pick for a night out with?
I would have to say Pepe Reina.
To visit a museum?
A shopping trip?
To go on holiday?
I could pick many of them, but if pushed then David Silva.
To join you at Arsenal?
Andres Iniesta, there’s no player like him.