The Forgotten Man
In the summer of 2005 it was pretty quiet on the transfer front at the Camp Nou. The only two arrivals, midfielder Mark Van Bommel and forward Santi Ezquerro, were both good players but hardly superstars. Van Bommel, though he had just captained PSV to the semi-final of the European Cup in addition to winning the Dutch League by a country mile, would have a modest impact at Barça, playing a more withdrawn role than he had in Eindhoven (he netted fourteen gols from midfield in the Eredivisie). Ezquerro, scorer of eleven gols for Bilbao in the league and five in their UEFA Cup campaign, hardly played at all, starting just four games and scoring twice in La Liga.
It was to no ones suprise that Van Bommel upped sticks to Bayern a year later, filling the slot vacated by Michael Ballack in Felix Magath's side. Santi however, despite rumours linking him with a loan move back to Athletic, stayed put. A few months shy of his thirtieth birthday, Ezquerro, a strong, quick and adaptable forward should be enjoying his best form and playing regularly. Instead he's had one ten minute run out against Huelva and two Copa Del Rey games against third division Badalona, scoring his first gol last night in Barcelona's 4-0 victory.
With the blaugrana's current striking woes; Eto'o out for five months, Gudjohnsen injured (an not much use when he is fit) and Saviola out of favour, one would think that Frank Rijkaard couldn't wait to give Santi a go. Yet he barely makes the bench these days let alone the team. What's happened to the man who looked like the best forward in the Basque Country only two seasons ago? (The same question could be leveled at Nihat and Kovacevic of Sociedad, both hitting over twenty league gols the season before)
Leo Messi's emergence in the past eighteen to twenty four months has been nothing short of phenomenal. His form this season has been outstanding and with Eto'o out and 'dinho out of sorts, he's been far and away the team's best forward. This, in addition to Rijkaard's persistence with Eidur Offsidesen and the stuttering Ronaldinho, has seen everyone else bumped backwards in the queue.
Last year Santi had Larsson and Maxi ahead of him. Now it's Saviola and Giuly. However you break it down, he's been dead last on Barcelona's list of striking options for two years now. And despite his getting on the score sheet against Badalona, this looks unlikely to change anytime soon.
So what is he doing wasting his time? He's a decent striker (52 gols in La Liga in his twelve year career, most of them while at the Sam Mames) and he's not getting any younger. There are plenty of clubs (Betis, Mallorca, Athletic and Osasuna, Santi's first club) who look like they couldn't hit a donkey's arse with a banjo right now and could desperately do with a striker of his ability and experience. Here's hoping he makes the move in January as the man for Calahorra has become the forgotten man in Catalunya.