Nobody who followed Spain’s progress at the 2017 Under 21 European Championships will have been surprised by Dani Ceballos’ masterly display at Wembley that helped Arsenal claim their fourth FA Cup in six years.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s double in the final against Chelsea highlighted Arsenal’s need to agree a new contract with their top scorer, yet securing a deal for Ceballos – who spent last season on loan from Real Madrid – is surely just as important.
Since the restart, Ceballos has been a model of consistency in Mikel Arteta’s improving, though unpredictable, Arsenal team – just as he was in Poland three years ago.
Arsenal desperately need to secure the permanent future of Real Madrid loanee Dani Ceballos
In a stellar Spain squad containing players like Saul Niguez, Marco Asensio and Marcos Llorente, Ceballos started the campaign on the bench but was so impressive when he forced his way into the team that he was named player of the tournament, even though Spain were beaten in the final by Germany.
Two years later, Ceballos was at the heart of the Spanish team again as they went one better and clinched the title in Italy.
Wembley showed Ceballos at his best again after two difficult years in Madrid, where he moved for £16.2million from Real Betis thanks in part to those performances in Poland.
Even though Ceballos said at Wembley that ‘Madrid are better than any club in the world’, it is difficult to envisage him finding a spot in their midfield while Zinedine Zidane is coach.
Ceballos was named player of the tournament at the 2017 Under 21 European Championships
Two years later, Ceballos (right) was at the heart of the Spanish team again as captain
They would go one better from the U17 tournament and would lift the Under 21 title with Spain
Sources in Spain indicate there is little future for Ceballos under Zidane, leaving the door open for Arsenal to try to seal the permanent signing this summer. Yet they are unlikely to be the only ones in the frame.
Valencia have shown an interest before while Betis could give Ceballos the chance to return to Seville, his home city, and the 23-year-old appears attracted by the idea.
He said: ‘I’ve a lot of love for Betis, for everyone that works at the club. They know the love I have for them and we’ve been in contact all season. Betis means a lot to me.
‘We’ll see about my future. I’m not thinking about whether or not I can play for Real Madrid, Arsenal or another club.
Betis could give Ceballos the chance to return to Seville if things don’t work out in Madrid
The 23-year-old came through the ranks at Betis before securing a move to the Bernabeu
‘Now it’s time to disconnect. I have to be calm and think clearly with my family about the coming year.’
Where coaches previously struggled to find Ceballos’ best position, he has thrived in central midfield in Arteta’s 3-4-3 system.
His struggles with injury in the early part of the season are behind him and since football resumed in June after the three-month suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic, he has started every game except last month’s 2-1 win over Liverpool at Emirates Stadium.
In total, Ceballos made 37 appearances in 2019-20 for the Gunners, scoring two goals and registering two assists.
Sources in Spain indicate there is little future for Ceballos (centre left) under Zidane at Real
‘I don’t see any chance for him at Madrid while Zidane is in charge,’ Spanish football expert Terry Gibson told Sportsmail. ‘But he was excellent at Betis after coming through the youth ranks there and you could see how talented he was.
‘He was also Spain’s best player in each of the last European Under 21 Championships but when he was in LaLiga, it was hard to pin him down to a single position.’
Gibson, the former Tottenham, Manchester United and Wimbledon striker, worked as a scout in Spain for Bolton during Sam Allardyce’s spell at the club and has been a regular pundit on UK coverage of LaLiga ever since.
He has watched every LaLiga game stretching back to January for a scouting project he hopes will benefit English clubs.
Ceballos has thrived in central midfield in Arteta’s 3-4-3 system while on loan this season
The Spaniard played an integral role for Arsenal and everything should be done to keep him
‘Ceballos’ best performances in Spanish football were in the No 10 role so I’m interested to see whether he can be successful as an orthodox central midfielder,’ Gibson added.
Arsenal will hope that their FA Cup triumph, and guarantee of European football, will tip the balance in their favour in the race for Ceballos, who turns 24 on August 7.
Because if he really is starting to fulfil the potential he showed on the continental stage three years ago, Arsenal must do everything they can to ensure he does so in north London.