So, just who is Sergio Canales?
Hype, by nature, often arrives prematurely, only to eventually recede into the backdrop when it realizes that it spoke to soon. Players, young players particularly, have this unfortunate burden to overcome when their performances start attracting the attention of eyes with access to a quick tongue. In many cases the expectations set before them are so lofty that they never scale those unachievable heights, and subsequently they’re unceremoniously deemed as flops. But who do you blame? Hype itself, or the players that can’t live up to it? Seems rather situational to me.
But let’s get back to the point. Sergio Canales, for those who do not know, is the unluckiest prodigy to play professional football this century. Sure, you wouldn’t call him a prodigy now – nearly 25 years-old and playing midfield at Real Sociedad… Yet there was a time, when Spanish football was enjoying its best moment, that this young Luke Skywalker doppelganger from Santander was leading the production line of young Spanish starlets that were fast-tracking to the game’s skyscraping peak.
Canales made his debut for Racing Santander’s first team in 2008 as a 17-year old in a UEFA Cup fixture. Two weeks later he did the same in La Liga against Osasuna. A year on from then he was leaving tracks, notching two goals against Espanyol and scoring another emphatic brace at the Sánchez Pizjuán in a 2-1 away win over Sevilla. By that point the cat was out of the bag, and by February of 2010 Real Madrid had agreed a deal with Racing for the player on a six-year contract.
Backtracking again, Sergio Canales is extremely unlucky. Truly, he is. Last Wednesday, in a game against his former employers at the Bernabéu, the once boy wonder from Santander hit the turf with an all too familiar agonizing sensation. It would be his third major knee ligament rupture since October 2011. Football has been unkind to Canales. In his only campaign wearing the famous white strip of Real Madrid, he only made ten appearances. Three were in the Copa del Rey in which Jose Mourinho’s Madrid finally toppled Pep’s Barcelona in the final. However, he never scored for Real apart from a preseason tally in a meaningless win over Club América.
The demand for Real to match Barcelona’s best ever team was a harsh environment for a young, domestic attacking midfielder plopped in a squad with the likes of Mesut Özil and 2007 Ballon d’Or winner, Ricardo Kaká. Tellingly, there was no spare time to nurture a rising prodigy when the margin for error ceased to exist. Despite starting the first game of the 2010-11 domestic season, a disappointing goalless draw at Mallorca, Canales was rendered surplus by Mourinho and the following season was sent out on loan to Valencia where his injury troubles began. By the time he had recovered, only to relapse five games later, Madrid had moved on and decided to make the Canales loan deal permanent at Los Che.
In January 2014 Canales was sold again, this time to Real Sociedad for over 3 million euro where, until now, he’d put his problematic injury history behind him. Averaging a goal about every ten matches, in two years he’s made almost double the appearances he had at Valencia. But unfortunately this once darling of Spanish football will be faced with another painful sentence of recovery months in the physio’s office. Most players aren’t ever the same after one ACL tear. I can hardly imagine three.
So in conclusion, where many failed young players that were tipped to do great things are to blame for buckling under the weight of their own demands, I can exempt Sergio Canales. Because once, agile, creative, and dangerously left-footed, I remember the promise. And I’ll lose sleep at night wondering what could have been if it wasn’t for the tragedy of ill-fate.