Tom Oldfield

It is no secret that Spain possess such a staggering array of midfield talent that Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas often fails to make the starting line-up. With Barcelona duo Xavi and Andres Iniesta continuing to weave their magic and the likes of Marcos Senna proving as industrious as ever, the class is there for all to see.
And this makes it all the more telling that pundits and supporters alike are so excited by the performances of Sevilla winger Jesus Navas. There might already be an embarrassment of riches for Spain manager Vicente Del Bosque but Navas is rightly earning plenty of attention.
The 24-year-old is an intriguing and perplexing character. Everything about the way he plays points to a fearless, confident individual and his track record of influencing big games suggests that the young man thrives on pressure. He scored two important goals as Sevilla topped Group G in the Champions League and has been a vital cog in the club’s La Liga run thus far. Sevilla sit third at the time of writing, trailing only Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Navas is comfortable on the ball and is a fine dribbler, often providing the ammunition for the team’s potent strikeforce of Frederic Kanoute and Luis Fabiano. He brings youthful energy and creativity to supplement the work ethic that has been a key component for Sevilla over the past four or five years. Having learned his trade at the club, the wide man helped mastermind back-to-back UEFA Cup successes in 2006 and 2007 to go with the 2006 UEFA Super Cup, the 2006/07 Copa del Rey and the 2007 Spanish Supercup.
Inevitably, the Spanish national team have come calling for Navas but that particular journey has been bumpy to say the least because, for all the freedom of his play on the pitch, the winger has suffered from panic attacks when spending periods away from home. Such a condition does not fit well with travelling to major international tournaments, which may last up to a month, and it has been a major obstacle for Navas to deal with. The difficulties have led to the winger leaving training camps around the country to recuperate at home.
But the Sevilla man claims to be winning his battle with anxiety and is now pushing his case to go to the World Cup in South Africa next summer. Having impressed for the Spain under-21 side, Navas was called up to the senior squad for the first time in November and has two caps to his name so far. The history of homesickness still leaves a question mark hanging over his head but the current international setup seems unflustered by it.
Del Bosque shrugged off concerns over Navas’ health when he announced the squad to face Argentina and Austria last month. He told reporters: “The last coach [Luis Aragones] considered using him, but it was his personal circumstances that prevented it from happening. We’ve gone through the necessary steps and we think he is in the right condition to come with us now.”
Reviews have been positive and he seems to offer the width that may help the Spaniards build on their Euro 2008 triumph. Trying to fit Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Fabregas into the same team leaves the Spaniards too narrow and they benefited from the width provided by Valencia’s David Silva on the way to success in Austria and Switzerland. Navas can do the same job and is capable of playing on either flank, giving Del Bosque increased attacking options. Coming off the bench for the final 20 minutes or so, Navas could be lethal on the counter attack.
He claims that a meeting with Spain assistant coach Fernando Hierro, the former Real Madrid legend, helped to reassure him that committing to the international team need not be daunting and he can find familiar faces from his under-21 days in Silva and defender Sergio Ramos as well as club colleague Alvaro Negrado.
Navas will have further chances to stake his claim as Sevilla seek to push on in the Champions League and chase Barcelona and Real Madrid in La Liga over the coming months. He is still a somewhat unknown quantity around Europe and is using that to his advantage but with every match-winning display, he becomes more of a marked man.
Provided he stays fit, Navas is a good bet to make Del Bosque’s final squad for the World Cup. And if he brings the same fearless drive and passion that he shows every week for Sevilla, Spain will have another weapon to unleash on opponents next summer.


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