A triumph of hard work and a desire to succeed: An ode to Nacho Monreal

For some professional footballers, an instinctive gift for the game has allowed them to progress right to the very pinnacle of the sport.

For those select few, all the riches and adulation that go hand-in-hand with being a star player have come relatively easily, the result of them doing every day what they have always done – played football.

But there are other players who force and fight their way to the top by other means, through sheer force of will, determination, and hard work.

This type of player is not blessed with the natural ability of some, nor do they possess the exceptional instinct and aptitude enjoyed by others.

What sets them apart is awareness of the shortcomings in their game relative to others and the desire to relentlessly battle to overcome them, making it to the same lofty pinnacle as their peers, only with 120kg of toil on their backs.

Nacho Monreal is the embodiment of that effort.

In his regular Premier League team of the week feature, former Tottenham striker Garth Crooks described the Spaniard as someone who plays every game as if his life depends on it. No other description could more adequately describe the 31-year-old.

Nacho will never have the finesse, guile, or innate ability of other great exponents of the art – the Ashley Coles or Roberto Carloses of this world – but what he has over and above almost everyone else is sheer force of will. His ability to succeed by effort alone is astounding and is undoubtedly the reason why he has seen off the competition of others and kept his place in the Arsenal team this season.

Many were perplexed as to why Nacho retained a slot in Arsenal’s back three when the squad boasts five others who are specialists in that position. His performances so far this season, and especially in the last two matches against West Brom and Brighton have shown precisely why Arsene Wenger has shown such faith in the Spaniard. He has been a giant.

Nacho has completed the full 90 minutes in all 10 matches in which he has featured this season – including internationals and the Community Shield – coming away with a record of eight wins and two defeats in the process.

In and of itself, that sort of reliability and stamina is to be admired, given that so many players are rotated and rested these days. Clearly, the manager thinks a great deal of the man he bought for about £8million from Malaga in January, 2013.

So far this season, Monreal has managed 22 interceptions, the most in the Premier League (EA Sports) and has 32 clearances and two blocks. He also has 12 successful tackles to his name, with a success rate of about 40 per cent.

According to statistics website Squawka, Monreal is the fifth best defender in the league this season based on overall performance score, with only Phil Jones, Nicolas Otamendi, Antonio Valencia, and Eric Bailly ahead of him. Given that Manchester United haven’t faced a side placed higher than 12th so far this season, it is no surprise to see three of their number among the top five.

And not only has his defensive work been excellent, he has also excelled going forward, hitherto an underwhelming part of his game.

He has averaged 70 passes per game this term (whoscored.com), with a completion rate of more than 92 per cent.

Throw in a goal against Brighton and Hove at the weekend and a man-of-the-match performance against West Bromwich Albion the Monday before, and you see just how pivotal Monreal has been for the Gunners.

As with any player, there remain weaknesses to his game – his crossing in particular has been poor throughout his time at Arsenal. Dealing with long balls has caused issues, and he has also struggled at times against powerful, pacey wide players running directly at him.

Even so, you get the impression that, having recognised those flaws, he has redoubled his efforts in order to rectify them this year. The move into the centre of defence hasn’t found him wanting at all and he has learned to adapt and focus very quickly.

For a player in the autumn of his career, it is admirable to see him thrive and, indeed, improve as a defender, as well as an offensive option.

His renaissance is proof that, while natural talent will open doors for you, hard work will make sure those doors stay firmly open.

While Nacho will never be the among the greatest left backs the game has ever seen, you would be hard pressed to find a player who has worked harder to make the most of his talent. More power to him.

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