Santi Cazorla said Villarreal will always be his “home” after the veteran star bid farewell to the LaLiga club amid links to Xavi’s Al-Sadd in Qatar.
Cazorla and long-serving captain Bruno Soriano played their final match for Villarreal in a 4-0 final-round rout of Eibar on Sunday.
The 35-year-old Cazorla, who has made a big impact in his third spell with Villarreal after returning from a serious Achilles injury in 2018 following 636 days on the sidelines, has been linked with a move to Al-Sadd – coached by former Barcelona skipper Xavi.
And former Arsenal playmaker Cazorla bowed out on a winning note with Villareal, providing the assist for Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa’s 71st-minute opener at home to Eibar.
Cazorla ended the 2019-20 campaign with 11 goals and 10 assists as Villareal finished fifth in LaLiga to qualify for the Europa League.
“I’m eternally grateful to this club and the fans for having opened the doors to me and for all the love they’ve shown me for so long,” Cazorla, who was replaced in the 82nd minute, said via the club’s website.
“I’ve had a great time, but it’s time to end this stage of my career. It’s a decision I’ve thought about a lot. Every game I find it harder to give 100 per cent and I had to be honest with myself and the club.
“I feel that this club is inside me. It isn’t a goodbye, it’s a ‘we’ll meet again’, because Villarreal CF will always be my home.”
Bruno also made an emotional swansong on the final day of the season at Madrigal, with the 36-year-old retiring after more than 300 appearances for Villarreal.
The one-club player returned to the field in June following more than three years on the sidelines due to two operations and a painful recovery.
“I’ve thought about it a lot and I’ve taken this tough decision. I’ve realised that my body is no longer able to give 100 per cent and play 90 minutes week in, week out, which is what I’ve always wanted to do. That’s why I’ve taken the decision to end my career,” Bruno said.
“This club is part of my life and that doesn’t stop here. I am going to continue coming to cheer on the team every Sunday, alongside the rest of the fans and those who love this club.”