MADRID -- Spanish midfielder Santi Cazorla said it was "very special" to be playing top-level football again after making his comeback following an injury-plagued 21 months.
The former Arsenal playmaker, who had skin removed from his forearm and grafted on to his leg after undergoing eight operations on a persistent ankle injury, was told by doctors he would be lucky to walk properly again, let alone return to playing professionally.
"To feel like a footballer again is something very special," Cazorla said after returning to the pitch on Tuesday when he came on as a second-half substitute for Villarreal in a preseason friendly against Hercules, 636 days after his last outing in October 2016.
Following an extensive rehabilitation process, the 33-year-old last month re-joined former club Villarreal on a trial basis after being released by Arsenal.
"The warmth of everyone during this period is something that will stay with me forever," he told the La Liga club's official website.
"The fans have given me strength and been there through all the bad times."
Cazorla said he was determined to make the most of his second chance, adding: "Sometimes I can ask too much of myself and I don't enjoy things.
"I've returned to training with my teammates and played a game at a good level. For me, this was unthinkable 20 months ago. I'm just focused on getting 100 percent fit and doing what I love to do: playing football."