David Villa: Europe's Most Undervalued Forward Is No Gamble For Arsenal...
In the past twelve months there has been much speculation that David Villa was on his way out of Camp Nou, citing differences and frustration with his role in the side. It was only 24 months ago that Villa was lifting the Champions League at Wembley with his new club. Much has been written and said regarding the issue of Villa at Barcelona, yet as this article will discuss Villa should be valued much more than he is.
"David Villa is a phenomenon – the best in Europe"
Quini, five-time Pichichi winner
What does a world class forward require for the modern game? Technically they require an excellent touch, the ability to finish with both feet with limited touches in tight areas as well as being able to combine and create goals for others. They must be able to run with the ball and dribble to beat players. Tactically they require excellent positioning, movement and the ability to find and exploit space both behind and in front of defences. The modern forward also is required to play and move wide and cannot be restricted just centrally. Physically they require explosive speed, agility and balance especially when under pressure. And mentally they need to be clever and intelligent, being able to read and anticipate the game, to play in the future. Finally they need to be confident, positive and determined. David Villa is all of these things.
A career full of goals
Villa is known as El Guaje (the kid) and can be said to be one of the most underrated strikers in world football. In a recent list of the world’s top 100 players Villa was only deemed good enough for a spot at 85. Now I am not valuing the opinion of this football ‘expert’ yet it I believe it is important to stress how many do not consider Villa to be one of the best around.
His early career saw him at Sporting De Gijon where he would win the Copa del Rey and Spanish Super Cup. His manager at Gijon Pepe Acebal highlighted Villa’s class perfectly; "He had great technical qualities. His first touch was superb and, although you can never be sure someone will make it, you could tell he was talented. He makes very clever diagonal runs, breaking away from defenders, and he invariably made the right decisions. He is very intuitive."
With his goal tally nearly reaching 40 goals after spending two full seasons in Sporting’s main team, Villa ultimately got his chance in Spain's top-flight. With Sporting in financial difficulty newly promoted Real Zaragoza signed him for approximately £2.5 million in the summer of 2003. Villa had no trouble adapting to playing at the higher level, netting 17 times in his first season at Zaragoza.
After impressing at Zaragoza scoring another 40 goals Villa made his big move to one of Spanish football's heavyweights. A new look Valencia under Quique Sánchez Flores paid £10 million to secure Villa in the summer of 2005. It was to be a major coup based on what Villa would offer the club in the coming seasons. In his first season he would score 25 goals in 35 league matches, finishing one goal behind the league's top scorer Samuel Eto'o of Barcelona. Villa's goal tally that year was the best that any Valencia player had ever achieved since Edmundo Suárez over 60 years earlier.
In the 2006/07 season Villa would experience the Champions League for the first time. After qualifying for the knockout stages Valencia faced Inter Milan where Villa’s performance prompted one of Inter's defenders to profess that Villa had "made us look like idiots, all on his own".
The following season would see a new coach at the Mestalla in Ronald Koeman. However he struggled and did not even last till the end of the season. In fact when Koeman left Valencia were closer to relegation than the top of the table. Koeman however would win the Copa Del Rey but was sacked due to the poor league form.
The following year under new coach Unai Emery Villa achieved his best season at Valencia as far as goal scoring is concerned. Villa would finish the 2008/2009 season with 28 goals, equalling records set by the Argentinian Mario Kempes and the Montenegrin Predrag Mijatović, who also scored 28 goals in a Valencia shirt. The 28 league goals plus 3 more in other competitions that season, accumulated a total of 101 goals in 180 official games with the Valencia. At the end of the season Villa and after four years at Valencia, only Eto'o had scored more goals than him in that period (six more).
The best Spanish forward ever?
His qualities have not been just for his clubs, in fact it can be argued that he is even better for his country. He made his debut in 2005 while playing for Zaragoza, with Luis Aragones seeing a real talent in Villa. It was rumoured he was been lined up to be Raul’s long term replacement. High praise indeed yet also high pressure.
In fact this issue of Raul is an interesting topic. By the end of 2006, Villa had become an integral part of Luis Aragonés' plans and had ousted Raúl from the team. As Raul was the ‘Prince’ of Spain and Madrid the Spanish media went as far to accuse Villa of taking the #7 jersey away from Spain’s (at the time) top goalscorer.
However the decision to move on from Raul was justified. In fact it can be argued that removing such a dominant and overbearing presence in Raul was paramount for the resulting success of the national side.
Although Spain would only reach the knockout stage of the 2006 World Cup Spain, losing 3-1 to France, the signs were that under Aragones and his new look forward line up of Villa and Torres, Spain were improving on the international stage. The loss to France was the first defeat Spain had suffered under Aragones in 25 games since he took charge after Euro 2004. Signs were pointing to a new era for Spanish football. initially Villa would play more as a right winger in a 4-3-3 formation yet he would still score three goals at the 2006 tournament, highlighting Villa’s finishing ability.
At the 2008 Euro’s Spain and Villa would finally banish the ‘underachievers’ tag and would mark the start of some splendid years for Spanish football. Barcelona had won the 2006 Champions League and signs were pointing to something special for Spanish football. Under Aragones, a coach who Xavi ranks as a genius, Spain would take the 2008 tournament by storm.
With Villa and Torres up front Spain appeared blessed with true world class quality in their side. However this issue of two up front was a concern throughout the tournament. Much has been made of Spain’s issues up front and there were many who argued that the national team functioned better with one up front. In fact this was highlighted in the quarter final against Italy when Spain struggled when both Torres and Villa played up front. In the end it took a penalty shoot-out to progress.
In the semi-final against Russia both Torres and Villa partnered each other and Spain struggled, that was until Villa got injured. With Fabregas his replacement Spain converted to a more 4-5-1 formation and Spain went on to win 3-0. Without Villa in the final Torres played up front alone and although the game or performance was not overall spectacular, Torres exposed the space which a single forward allowed.
Although he missed those final two games Villa would finish top scorer at the Euro’s with four goals, three of those coming against Russia in the group stages. People were now looking at the man from Valencia and regarded him as one of Europe’s best strikers.
Villa would continue his international scoring form at the World Cup in 2010 where he would finish joint top scorer with five goals. His goals would be a major part in Spain’s progression to the final once again. Although Spain lost the first game Villa would score twice against Honduras and another against Chile in their 2-1 to secure two valuable wins which would see Spain progress to the last 16. His goal against Chile would be his 6th world cup goal which would make him Spain’s all time record goalscorer at World Cups.
In the following two rounds Spain would defeat both Portugal and Paraguay 1-0, with both goals coming from Villa. In a more left sided forward role Villa would find more space to exploit. This was especially evident when Torres was removed for Fernando Llorente who appeared to offer Spain something ‘different’ in attack. The goal against Portugal seemed to bring to attention Villa's world class finishing ability (by this time he had already signed for Barcelona).
In the semi-final and final Villa would not find the net yet Puyol and Iniesta would be the ones to give Spain their first world cup triumph. Villa’s five goals would once again highlight his importance to the side. In the past year Villa has become Spain’s all time goal scorer, overtaking Raul, with 53 goals. His record in tournaments particularly highlights proves how important Villa is when the pressure is on. His goals are not just tallied against the ‘lesser’ sides but against some of the world’s best and at key moments.
A lack of ambition?
Although Villa’s goal scoring record for both club and country had been fantastic during his time at Valencia and before, his worldwide recognition as one of Europe’s best forwards has appeared mixed at best.
At club level he rarely played on the biggest stage, Valencia only competed in the Champions League twice while Villa was there which meant that unlike other regular players in the tournament, Villa was not exposed to the world as frequently as others.
However you only to have look at his record in 2009 to consider him one of the best around. In the year of 2009 Villa scored more goals than any other footballer, 43 goals in 54 games across all competitions for Spain and Valencia. Perhaps the emergence of Ronaldo and Messi has reduced Villa's 'impact' on the world stage, yet there is no doubt that when looking at his achievements he must be regarded as one of the best forwards in recent years.
Perhaps the issue of his 'exposure' was from a lack of ambition, a remark made by Bernd Schuster after failing to sign Villa when manager of Real Madrid. The German coach had accused Villa of having "no ambition”. However other reports have signalled that certain players at the club did want Villa to come to the Bernabeu. "I would have brought Villa, but there were a lot of people who did not want him to come," said the German in comments to Marca. When pressed further about whether it was Raul who did not favour Villa's arrival, Schuster responded ironically with "I have a cough", insinuating the captain's involvement.
After the 2009 season Villa returned back to training amidst much media speculation linking him with some of Europe’s top clubs. Alex Ferguson in particular had remarked that Villa was the only one player he wished to bring to Old Trafford, however Villa was not privy for a move abroad. It appeared that Valencia had informed him that they were looking to sell him due to the financial issues at the club. Yet it was not till the following summer when Villa moved away.
Madrid’s loss would be Barcelon’s gain. This was particularly disappointing for a new galactico at the club Kaka, who in October 2008 praised Villa, claiming that he is "the best Spanish footballer" adding that "The player with whom I would most like to play is David Villa of Valencia.”
A move to Camp Nou
"Villa is not only there to finish plays. Villa is synonymous with depth. It means always being ready to open passing lanes, to draw defenders and thus freeing space for others.”
In 2010 Villa would move to Barcelona for £33m, in what was perhaps the best piece of business in recent years. Barcelona had chosen to bring Zlatan to Camp Nou instead of Villa the season before, yet this had proven a massive failure. In Villa Barcelona were getting a player with true world class ability which was proven on the biggest stage and which was suited to the 'Barcelona' way.
After the failed Zlatan ‘experiment’ Guardiola sought a player who could offer Barcelona variation of play, who could create as well as score goals and who importantly could compliment and not restrict Lionel Messi. And their ‘investment’ would pay off immediately.
For a season this looked like a perfect fit. As the quote above from Cryuff highlights, Villa offers more to the side than just goals, he offers space and time for himself and others. He is thus perfect for Barcelona.
As Begiristain stated, he felt that Villa had the right profile for Barça. "He is the perfect player to play up front for Barça," he explained. "His movement across the front line, as well his ability to play down the left and in the centre stand out. He is a player that will give us so many options going forward. With Villa we have an impressive front line."
Villa has moved to Camp Nou in order to succeed in Europe; "Playing in a team like Barça you always feel pressure. The demand is to win everything but this is good for you as a footballer, it makes you play better. I'm happy with that pressure. I don't know which is the biggest trophy right now. The World Cup was the biggest thing ever for the national team but the Champions League is the biggest thing for clubs."
Perhaps the most perfect illustration of Villa’s influence and the balance he provided the side was in the 5-0 demolition of the side he could have joined a year before. His movement, finishing and overall play brought out the best in the team and Messi (who although didn’t score was majestic). It was for me the best game I have ever seen Barcelona play. The capture of Villa was essential for this side to play in this way with such penetration. See the goals from the game here
Barca would reach the final of the Champions League for the second time in three years, this time out playing United with such quality that you could only watch and marvel at the complete control that Barca played with. It was significant also that in the final all three forwards would score; Pedro, Messi and Villa, highlighting the wonderful balance which this team possessed.
The success was deserved as Barcelona were unquestionably the best side in world football in that season. Villa’s inclusion was essential because it opened the game out, created more space for Messi and ultimately benefited the whole team.
The Messi issue?
"I am conscious that I am joining the best team in the world and that they have won everything. I want to help them become a little better. Messi is the best player I have ever seen and I will be proud to share a dressing room with him and to wear the same shirt."
During the 11/12 season in the Club World Cup Villa would break his tibia and would be sidelined for six months. At this point however problems had surfaced regarding his relationship with Messi and Villa's apparent desire to play in a more central position. The Messi ‘issue’ had apparently risen again, the same which had led to the exits of players like Eto’o, Zlatan and Bojan before Villa.
Villa had seemed such a perfect fit for Villa at Barca that previous season and appeared to compliment Messi perectly. However perhaps the issue was not Messi but Fabregas who had arrived that summer. The attempts to ‘fit’ him in the side appeared to have come at the consequence of Villa and it most certainly had affected the balance of the 4-3-3.
Villa’s injury and absence was sorely missed and Barca would only win the Copa Del Rey that season. Perhaps the injury was a blessing in disguise. Rumours had surfaced that Man City were interested in taking Villa to England and it had looked likely before the tibia break.
However on his return earlier this season, under new coach Vilanova it appeared that Villa was been seen solely as a squad player, being brought on in the latter stages of games. Although the justification for this was his 'recovery', there were more reports of disharmony between Villa and Messi. And as history proved, when that occurs the powers that be will always side with their Argentinian star.
Yet there is no doubt that in Villa’s absence there has been clearly a loss of that valuable ‘balance’ and cohesion between the team. Iniesta for all his greatness is not as good in that left forward role as Villa and in certain this season, notably in the losses against Sociedad and Madrid (1-3), the draw against Valencia and recently the loss to Milan, Barca clearly suffered from Villa’s absence.
This lesson seems to have been learnt in recent weeks. In that most important second leg against Milan both Villa and Pedro played with Messi and the team looked more comfortable and clinical. With no Fabregas in the side it was evident where the problem has been.
And of this issue with Messi and Villa? Well these past few games have shown here are signs that the players are bonding once more, Messi is playing with a smile, they are both assisting for each other and importantly Barcelona are winning. The game against Vallecano showed a real understanding and bond between the two. Villa plays his role superbly, he does not attempt to steal the limelight from Messi, instead shares it with him, which not only enhances each individual but makes the team more successful.
It appears that the influence of Villa in the team is helping the team win again, and this is not good for the rest of Europe.
A player in the shadows?
"I feel very proud to have been born in this great generation of football players. We have been playing together for so long most of the players are like family. The system is standard for us, we have practised it for so many years and you can see how much we enjoy playing together on the pitch. It is automatic the way we pass and how we attack."
One can argue that David Villa has been one of the best yet most undervalued forwards in world football these past six years. His international performances and success, the goal scoring records and ability to perform on the big stage should really have made him more of a ‘star’.
However whether perhaps the Messi/Ronaldo argument has superseded his influence and quality or whether the pro-English media has lavished praise on players such as Rooney, Drogba and of course Torres because of their performances in England it is hard to say.
Perhaps the rise of Barcelona and their midfield maestro’s has taken away from Villa's quality also. Spain like no other nation appear to value midfielders more than strikers.
Yet without question David Villa is one of the best forwards football has seen, and I do not say that lightly. He has such excellent movement and finishing skills as well as great decision making that he is an example to many young players.
You only have to see what he brings to Barcelona, or should I say takes away from Barca when he is not playing, to see how important he is. Although this present La Liga era has talents in Messi, Ronaldo, Falcao and Iniesta, Villa should not be dismissed or forgotten.
There are rumours that he will be leaving this summer, however as recent games have suggested Messi and Villa complement each other perfectly and surely Barca would be foolish to let him leave? Messi is clearly a better player with Villa in the team. Personally I believe they should retain him. And at 31 he still has many years ahead of him.
Overall David Villa’s career has seen him score over 300 goals for both club and country and has seen him win all that can be won for club and country. Perhaps not moving away from Valencia earlier reduced his impact in the minds of many, yet surely that when looking at his career overall it is evident that there has not been many better forwards than him in the past decade. A truly world class forward shouldn’t be undervalued as much as Villa is.
The Whitehouse Address@The_W_Address