David Villa played one game in the new decade, winning Japan’s Emperor’s Cup knockout tournament on New Year’s Day with Vissel Kobe—alongside his old teammate Andrés Iniesta—and raising a trophy in the final match of his remarkable career. The 38-year-old Villa announced in November that he’d soon be retiring from soccer, but he’s already moving forward on his next step: Being an owner and technical-side head of Queensboro FC, a new USL Championship team starting play in New York City in 2021.
“It’s amazing and exciting, and now it’s a reality, and there are a lot of things to do,” Villa told SI.com by phone in a recent interview from Japan. “[Retiring as a player] was a tough decision, but I always told myself that I prefer to not suffer in the field, I prefer to move forward in another place before I feel that I am gone physically with injuries. Reality told me that I could have played another year, but I prefer to anticipate moments when I might suffer. So I think this is the perfect moment [to retire].”
Villa, who played four seasons with NYCFC as part of a career that saw him win the World Cup (with Spain) and UEFA Champions League (for Barcelona), said moving forward he will be based in Spain with his family, but he plans to spend extensive time in New York City. The majority owner of Queensboro FC will be Jonathan Krane, the CEO of an asset management firm. Villa was introduced to Krane by sports media executive Michael Cohen, a Queens native who will be a minority owner in the club.
The team plans to play in a new temporary stadium at York College in Queens, with a few games taking place at the New York Mets’ Citi Field.
“We hope to have our own [permanent] stadium in the future,” Villa added.
The Spanish men’s national team’s all-time leading scorer had already started laying roots in New York during his MLS career, including starting his DV7 Soccer Academy, and he said that process had been part of leading to his involvement starting a team that will play in the USL Championship.
“We’ve spent time in Queens, and I felt this borough needs a professional soccer team,” he said. “We feel that many people who love soccer are waiting for something important in the borough, and when we started working with our academy we thought about it too with our kids when they were ready to move on to a professional soccer situation. We started to work on it and talked with the community and the people in the management of the borough, and every party was happy with our idea.”
Villa did make it clear that he doesn’t want to be the coach of Queensboro FC, but he said the news of a coach isn’t far away.
“The decision is almost made,” he explained. “It will be one of the first decisions that we need to announce as soon as possible.”
The USL continues to grow, with new teams being added with regularity to the USL Championship (second division), USL League One (third division) and USL League Two. Villa is one of several former star players who have invested in USL teams as part of their ownership groups, including Didier Drogba (Phoenix Rising), Landon Donovan (San Diego Loyal) and Tim Howard (Memphis 901).
“The reality is that many people around soccer know that people with big names are investing in USL clubs,” Villa said. “It’s a signal that something great is happening for the future.”