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World Cup focus

Spain's secret talent

February 8, 2010
By Didac Peyret

Premier League fans have become acquainted with the names of Spanish stars like Andres Iniesta, Fernando Torres, Xavi and David Villa, but slipping quietly under the radar has been a young winger named Jesus Navas.

Jesus Navas
GettyImagesJesus Navas has made two appearances for Spain

The Sevilla star has flourished into one of the best kept secrets in Spain. Graduating from the Sevilla academy, Navas displayed his qualities both on and off the pitch with his excellent work ethic and attitude and has become a real star for the club.

This impressive development has come despite the fact that he has suffered from anxiety problems throughout his life. This has been the biggest challenge of his career. For him it is easier to slip away from the best defenders in the world than spend a few weeks away from his family.

He has suffered from severe homesickness and from panic attacks when representing Sevilla away from home. That is why pre-season proved difficult with his club and why he has hardly featured for the national team.

Navas said recently: "I am calm and eager to enjoy the most I can, which means playing for the national side. The dream is there but I have to take the right steps and I'm doing it little by little."

Until a few months ago his health problems had been a taboo subject. Navas was reluctant to answer questions on the matter and the Spanish team's coaches respected his silence. However, the therapy he has been undertaking has finally been successful. On November 5 he formally announced he was ready for the challenge of playing for Spain and participating in the World Cup.

Vicente Del Bosque may use the player in Spain's upcoming games after Navas featured in back-to-back friendlies against Argentina and Austria in November. The first was held in Madrid but the second came in Vienna's Ernst Happel Stadium. In that debut performance against Argentina on November 14, Spain won 2-1 and Navas produced a promising performance.

"I am perfectly able to take this step," Navas said. "I want to try and it is a very good time to do so. It is Del Bosque who will take the final decision."

The response of the coach, who had been waiting for Navas to join him in the Spain squad, was clear: "We cannot turn our backs on a player who in recent years is playing very well."

Jesus Navas
GettyImagesJesus Navas is a dynamic presence for Sevilla

Small, skinny, fast and potent, Navas is a great example of perseverance on the pitch. He has an intangible quality that people from Sevilla call duende - a concept that refers to the best maestros of Flamenco. An innate art that makes spectators shiver.

He also never stops running; defending, attacking and offering an arsenal of technical skills that are able to unlock the defence of Real Madrid's galacticos or Barcelona's trophy-laden champions. His evident offensive qualities aside, he is the kind of player that coaches want at their side. He provides a perfect balance of attacking art and defensive graft.

The great paradox is that now it is very difficult to secure a place in the Spain starting XI. Could the best Spanish winger be a secondary concern for his national team? It may seem unusual but it looks as though Del Bosque has reserved him a role as an impact player, rather than a regular starter.

The fact that Spain have enjoyed great success playing without true wingers - with Andres Iniesta and David Silva occupying the wide positions, despite being prone to playing in the centre - reduces his chances of getting minutes on the pitch.

Will the best kept secret of La Liga finally explode into the global consciousness at the World Cup? Only Del Bosque has the answer.