Sergio Canales – lost in Madrid
Does anyone here remember the author of this goal? And, from later in the same match, this one? Their author, the 18-year-old Racing Santander midfielder Sergio Canales was then in the vanguard of a group of preposterously talented Spanish teenagers who seemed destined to join the ranks of those Spanish players, many not much older, who had made their country champions of first Europe and then the entire world. Canales went on to perform strongly in the Spanish team that finished as runners up to hosts France in the UEFA Under-19 Football Championship held that summer. English fans may recall this particularly crafty piece of set-play trickery that ensured Canales was to leave the tournament with his name amongst the goalscorers.
It was those first two goals, scored against Sevilla, that prompted this eulogy from the Guardian’s Sid Lowe, the piece which arguably brought Canales to the attention of Anglophone football fans. Almost exactly one year later Lowe was again to draw our attention to the young footballer, only this time Canales’s column space had shrunk almost as dramtically as the playing time he was now receiving at his new club, Real Madrid.
That second article by Mr Lowe points to a phenomenon to which Canales appears to have fallen victim: the appropriation on the league’s best players by Barcelona and Real Madrid. Had his talent not been in such evidence, Canales might well have escaped the attention of Spain’s two biggest clubs for a little longer. In the event, word of his promise soon escaped and the month after the Sevilla brace news had already broken that he had agreed terms with Real Madrid and would be joining them in the summer. That was the summer in which Spain won the World Cup, of course, and by the time the euphoria had settled enough to focus on the season ahead, Canales had already found himself a forgotten man.
This season he has started just once. He lasted for 58 minutes against Mallorca on the 29th of August. Every other appearance has been as a substitute. He has appeared twice as a substitute in the 80th minute or later, and twice more shortly after the hour mark. On the second of those twenty-some minute cameos he did set up a goal for Cristiano Ronaldo. This was in the 7-0 rout of Mallorca yesterday. Canales however is going to have to battle to unseat a man who not only arrived at the club after Canales but with much more fanfare. Mesut Özil had also played in an international tournament that summer, but unlike Canales his appearances had come in football’s most celebrated competition, the World Cup. He shone in South Africa, his vision and technique instrumental in steering his native Germany to a berth in the semi-finals, where they lost by a single goal to the eventual champions. Of course the wealthiest and most prestigious clubs in Europe took notice. Özil immediately became the subject of transfer speculation, and Werder Bremen promptly resigned themselves to the loss of their new star. Madrid won the battle for his signature, and went on to add to their list of youthful summer stars through the addition of Özil’s compatriot and World Cup teammate, Sami Khedira. Khedira’s understanding with Özil has not been lost on Madrid coach José Mourinho, who has made them integral members of his team, with 47 starts between them. Such has been Özil’s impact that even Kaká is finding his participation in matches from guaranteed, further lessening the likelihood that Sergio Canales will be allowed more games.
The argument could be made that time is still on Canales’s side. However Özil, the man whom he would most likely replace in the starting line-up, is no grizzled old veteran but rather a mere two years and four months the Spaniard’s senior. Those two years could be an eternity if Canales spends them on the bench, although he seem not to be guaranteed even that much security. In addition to his paltry number of league appearances, all but one from the bench, he has remained an unused substitute on five occasions and come on late twice in the Champions League. That makes a total of 12 matches in which he could potentially have featured for the first team in all competitions so far this season, including a long stretch of time when Kaká was unavailable through injury. At this rate by the time Canales is Özil’s present age he will have accumulated a tiny fraction of the top-level experience that the German has, and this during time when he should have been learning by playing in the league. Something he most certainly would have been doing had he waited those two years before moving to a club at the very top. Not unlike Mesut Özil.