David Villa, the 35-year-old striker from Asturias and Spain's all-time leading scorer with 59 goals in 97 international appearances, has been called up once again for his country by head coach Julen Lopetegui. It's a return to the international stage for El Guaje ("The Kid" in Asturian) for the first time since 2014 World Cup, and he effectively replaces his ex-Atlético Madrid teammate Diego Costa, whose ongoing quarrel with Antonio Conte has kept him out of the Chelsea squad since the beginning of preseason.
“We believe that calling up Villa is necessary and appropriate,” said Lopetegui, speaking to the press shortly after the squad announcement. “He’ll give us extra mobility up front and above all he’ll contribute with his enthusiasm. He is very eager. We hope and believe he will help us.”
Villa took to social media to show his gratitude. “Very excited. Thanks to all who have believed in me to wear this shirt once again.”
Villa’s return is both a result of perfect timing and performance, one that could not be ignored by Lopetegui.
Spain’s options up front are currently limited, with Costa out of commission and Alvaro Morata still adjusting to life in the Premier League. Villa, therefore, can help fill a scoring void.
This year for NYCFC, Villa has been incredible once again, leading the league with 19 goals. With nine games remaining, he could challenge the MLS single-season record of 27, which is held by Roy Lassiter and active players Chris Wondolowski and Bradley Wright-Phillips.
Earlier this month, Villa scored his first MLS hat trick in a 3-2 victory against the rival New York Red Bulls, a side he'll face again on Friday at Red Bull Arena.
Lopetegui has been paying attention since the beginning of the season, and he believes Villa's influence as both a player and a leader can have an immediate effect on a squad that includes young players such as Gerard Deulofeu, Marco Asensio and Morata.
This is also great news for Major League Soccer, as the league’s current MVP can show the footballing world that if a star player comes to America, it’s not the end of someone’s career, but rather the beginning of a new chapter.
It's not crazy to suggest that Villa could finish his career with NYCFC as the greatest foreign signing in MLS history. There are the two obvious, recent cases that can dispute that: Robbie Keane, who scored 73 goals, 43 assists in 108 matches and won three MLS Cups with the Galaxy; and Toronto FC’s Sebastian Giovinco, whose influence and tenacity has not only made the Canadian team the best team in the league right now, but his weekly performances have elevated the league’s reputation. With 52 goals (11 on free kicks) and 37 assists in 82 matches, Giovinco is as dangerous an every-game threat as there has been in the league.
But Villa, who signed on for another year with New York before the summer, can make a case for himself.
By the end of NYCFC’s inaugural season in 2015, he had scored 18 goals. An impressive tally, especially when you take into consideration that in the club’s introductory year, Villa was single-handedly carrying the team.
There were no other superstars, at least at the beginning as Andrea Pirlo did not arrive until July and Frank Lampard until August–and even then, he only played in 10 games. The team, coached by Jason Kreis, was still searching for an identity in the one city that feels so confident about its own. It was a testing year, one that would cost Kreis his job.
Villa, however, ended up as the fourth leading scorer in the league. To put it into context, Kaka, who was also making his introduction to MLS that same year with fellow expansion side Orlando City, finished with nine league goals.
Last season, with Patrick Vieira’s arrival, NYCFC played with more confidence and a new personality. The possession-heavy approach, mixed with a better supporting cast that included the arrival of top draft pick Jack Harrison, David Villa flourished, scoring 23 goals and helping the club achieve its first playoff appearance. During the season, he didn’t go three matches without scoring a goal, and he won the league's MVP honors.
Just before he received the award, Villa was asked about all the accolades and statistical achievements and if he ever thinks about all the records he has broken, both for club and country. He simply answered and smiled, “I don’t score for David Villa. I score for the team.”
As it stands, Villa has 60 goals and 20 assists in 87 league matches for NYCFC.
On the field, Villa’s relentless will to win is intoxicating, as to him, scoring is a matter of life and death. When you watch him live, you immediately forget that he’s 35-years-old, as he never stops running, never stops hunting for the ball. This has been a Villa trait since his Sporting Gijon days and through his career at Zaragoza, Valencia, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and now NYCFC.
Just like Lionel Messi, Villa’s youth career was met with criticism of his physique as right before he joined Gijón, Real Oviedo refused to recruit him due to his height. So now, years later, you witness the constant need to prove everyone wrong when he plays.
As NYCFC prepares for Friday’s crucial derby against the Red Bulls and the final one of the regular season, Villa enters the match as the man of the hour, carrying both club and country on his mind.