Dani Ceballos has always seemed like an… interesting character. His career itself is an odd blend of impressive silverware and accolades, with relatively streaky performances. If you were to talk about a player that is a Champions League winner, FA Cup winner, Spanish Super Cup winner, Club World Cup winner, you’d likely assume the player is a very successful one.
That’s not to say Dani Ceballos isn’t a successful, quality player — especially on his day — but I think by his own admission, plenty of junctures in his career have not gone the way he planned in his mind years ago at Real Betis.
After struggling to impress and retain his spot with Real Madrid, he made his way to Arsenal where his time has been extremely streaky. He started well, dipped along with everyone as Unai was on his way out, was deemed by Arteta to not be a true number 10 early in his tenure, fought for a place back in the team after changing position to more of a 6/8-hybrid, and managed to finish the season exceptionally well.
Coming into this season, when the news broke that he would be returning to London, everyone hoped the form he had captured toward the end of the season, as he acclimated to his new role, would continue. That Dani would be looking to bomb on and play a major role in Arsenal’s success. That has not been the case and a quality run of games seems to be something that is not only escaped Arsenal for the better part of two months, but Dani as well.
Yesterday, Ceballos gave an interview on El Larguero that was a bit… odd…
If I am being harsh, which I suppose my initial feelings about it are, it was a mishmash of pandering to three separate fanbases by a player that knows his destination is uncertain. Could be either one of the three or none of the three. I think it is becoming clear to Ceballos that, as Arsenal get more serious about their rebuild and inch closer to finding permanent midfield players, he won’t be one of them long term.
In the interview, in three separate statements, Ceballos essentially says, “my goal one day is to return to Real Madrid and be important in the best club in the world” and that Zidane is the best coach for Madrid, “someday I will return to my Betis throughout my career” in reference to returning to Real Betis his first and former club, and ““Mikel is a coach who fits me like a glove because he played in the same position as me”.
So if, I followed that right, it’s essentially:
- I want to go to Real Madrid and play, my heart wants that someday
- I want to go to Real Betis and play there again someday
- Arsenal/Mikel Arteta is perfect for me I want to succeed here
Which leaves me with the thought: If you’re trying to play for three teams, you’re not really trying to play for any of them
Is it a call for someone, anyone to come pick him up? A pandering to three different fanbases that he still thinks about them when he considers his future?
I posted about this on twitter and a really great Arsenal follow — for anyone looking for someone to follow on Twitter — Mike Mcdonald responded saying, “the future will be fine, if he takes care of the present”, and that is so, so true.
Last season when Ceballos was struggling to make an impact and get time in the team, he had some similar odd interviews and news kicked up that he would possibly return to Spain. So why is he back in London?
Because he finished the year exceptionally strong, took care of his present, and had Gooners ecstatic to see the club welcome him back for this year.
I don’t pretend to know a ton of details about his time with Real Madrid and the situation there besides him and Zidane not getting on too well, but he took care of his present at the end of last season, focused on the ‘there and then’, and was rewarded for his efforts with football. But I can’t imagine statements like the above look great to any of the three fanbases. It may come as a shock, but most fans don’t love when their players want to play for them and also other teams.
Why do I bring this up? Ceballos’ future at the Arsenal may be on a ticking clock. Chances are Dani won’t be back in the future, at least not at this rate. Arsenal won’t sign him to a deal, Real Madrid won’t want him to stay with how this loan spell has gone, and given his age, a third loan seems out of the question.
At the beginning of the season I ventured a guess that, aside from Aubameyang, it was Ceballos that could prove to be Arsenal’s most important piece. I think it’s fair to say that ‘most important’ is certainly out of the question, but it’s not unrealistic to still imagine Ceballos having an important role to play in this season, if he wants it. After all, Ceballos has struggled this year immensely and so have Arsenal until recently.
Most of my argument surrounded the belief that Ceballos could morph his game the most of anyone in the central pivot to play alongside a fit and healthy Thomas Partey, something that is STILL possible. Partey is on the mend, and as I wrote earlier this week, his partner needs to be found soon.
Against West Brom we saw a Dani Ceballos that we haven’t seen a lot this year, possibly at all. It was the Ceballos that helped lead Arsenal to their late charge up the Premier League table and FA Cup win. It was a Ceballos that does everything on the pitch and does it with gusto.
Against West Brom, Ceballos registered: 1 shot, 3 chances created, 7/10 long balls, 3 key passes, 89 touches, 7 duels won, 1 successful dribble, 3 tackles, 2 aerial duels won, and a whopping 7 interceptions and 7 recoveries. That is a rampant Dani, and the one that led me to believe it could be him that lifts Arsenal to success this year.
I have always had faith that Thomas Partey could be a core pillar to Arsenal’s rebuild and that his play would be an immense improvement. Even with the injuries, I retain that belief. But he also could unlock Ceballos’ potential as much as Ceballos could help elevate his.
There is still time this season to make that impact. Dani clearly knows he is playing for a contract. Not likely at Arsenal, not likely with Madrid, but with someone in world football. Like an athlete in a contract year, he needs to rise to the occasion and show what he is capable of. We have seen it much, but we just saw it once more. He called Arteta’s demands in of the central midfield a ‘static game’, well, go succeed at that static game again and again and again.
The burden falls entirely on his shoulders. Despite Mikel’s desire to work players with long term futures at the club into the lineup, the midfield doesn’t have as many options. All three, Ceballos, Elneny, and Xhaka could be out the door this summer. Nows the time to shine Dani and take care of your present to let the future take care of itself.